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Sousa: The March King

THE STORY OF "STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER"

The American Originals
The American Originals in formation as they perform “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on the 2002 “A Capitol Fourth”.

Composed by John Philip Sousa on Christmas Day 1896, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is the official March of the United States of America (US Code, Title 36 Chapter 10)

Surprisingly, John Philip Sousa's great American patriotic march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," was written not in the aftermath of a great battle, but on an ocean liner as Sousa and his wife were returning from a European vacation.

In late 1896, they were at sea when word came that the manager of the Sousa Band, David Blakely, had died suddenly. The band was scheduled to begin another cross-country tour soon, and Sousa knew he had to return to America right away to take over the band's business affairs. Sousa tells the rest of the story in his autobiography, Marching Along.

"Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."

The march was an immediate success, and Sousa's Band played it at almost every concert until his death over 25 years later. Sousa even set words to it:

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom's shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right
. Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with might endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Source:
John Philip Sousa: American Composer, Conductor and Patriot