July 4, 2021 by Cary O’Dell
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!
And what a better way to celebrate than a look at one of America’s most patriotic hits?
Sousa’s enduring classic was named to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2002. In the essay below, author Ace Collins looks at the long-enduring and beloved classic.
On October 1, 1880, a 26 year-old musician and composer accepted the challenge of leading the United States Marine Corp Band. From his first day on the job, John Philip Sousa, a son of a Marine Corps musician, radically changed the group’s direction. He tossed out old standards, brought in new arrangements of popular music, and penned original compositions. With its modern sound, the military unit quickly emerged as the nation’s premier musical ensemble, one of America’s top sellers of wax cylinders, a fixture on the sheet music sales charts, and a sure box office sellout.
In 1892, thirsting for new challenges, Sousa resigned his position with the Marines and joined with David Blakely, a former newspaper reporter and politician turned entertainment promotor, to form Sousa’s Band. As Sousa was one of the most gifted composers of the time and the 58 year-old Blakely was a master in creating publicity, this partnership was a marriage made in entertainment heaven. Building on the exploding recording industry, Sousa’s Band rattled off a series of hits including the wildly popular “El Capitan March” and “Washington Post March,” while also selling out concerts from coast to coast. Thanks to this success and Blakely’s relentless marketing, the bearded band leader’s image became one of the most recognized in America. Within three years, Sousa was the Elvis or Sinatra of his day. But the demands of fame coupled with the band’s unrelenting travel schedule took such a great toll that, in 1885, an exhausted Sousa turned his baton over to Blakely and walked away. As the Sousa Band continued touring and recording, its leader headed to Europe.