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Sousa’s Birthday

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Last week on November 4th, Americans performed their civic duty and voted in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Last week on November 6th, one of America’s most famous composers, native Washingtonian John Philip Sousa, celebrated his 160th birthday.

It is fitting, then, to celebrate a composer’s music that is inextricably tied to American patriotism, both at the turn of the 20th century and today.

Now, I’m sure many blog readers out there are already quite familiar with the man and his compositions–and if not, I would bargain that one could recognize “Stars and Stripes Forever” within its first few bars. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) Music Section has a few of Sousa’s famous marches transcribed into braille, as well as some audio recordings about Sousa and the history of the march. Below are some brief selections:

Photo of John Philip Sousa, standing, facing front. Published 1895.
John Philip Sousa, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing front. Published 1895.

Biography & Music History Books

John Philip Sousa — DBM 00297

A biographical book that comments on the composer’s life.

The March — DBM 00196

A discussion of the musical march form. Examples and discussion are included.

Marching along — DBM 00851

This book provides a biographical sketch of Sousa with some musical examples as well. Interviews with his family are also featured.


El Capitan (1896) Arranged for Piano — BRM 07276

This march, one of Sousa’s most famous, is actually from one of his three-act operettas, also called El Capitan, which was first premiered in Boston in 1896 and later moved to Broadway. The El Capitan march primarily consists of melodies from the operetta. This video of the march includes vocal parts from the original.

King Cotton (1895) Arranged for Piano — BRM 07283

Sousa composed this march for the Cotton States International Exposition in 1895. Its title refers to the main topic of the exposition–cotton, the king of the Southern economy at the time. Along with this composition, the exposition is best known for the famous “Atlanta Exposition Speech” given by Booker T. Washington, which later led to the Atlanta Compromise.

Semper Fidelis (1888) Arranged for Piano — BRM 33839

The official march of the United States Marine Corps, this is one of Sousa’s earlier marches.

Washington Post (1889) Arranged for Piano — BRM 03007

As noted in this video from the President’s Own Marine Band, this march was commissioned by the eponymous newspaper for an essay contest award ceremony. It has become one of Sousa’s most famous marches both here in America and across the world.


Photo of the The United States Marine Band with Bandleader John Philip Sousa
The United States Marine Band (John Philip Sousa, Leader), 1891. Published 1891.

So if you’re feeling patriotic this week, it’s a great time to play or listen to some Sousa.

All material in this blog post can be ordered from the NLS Music Section.

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