by John Philip Sousa
As one of America’s most famous and prolific composers, John Philip Sousa wrote 135 marches and dozens of other works, including operettas, songs and suites. Some of his early performances with the U.S. Marine Band were originally recorded on wax cylinder, further establishing Sousa as a true musical pioneer.
Through the preservation efforts of institutions like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, some of these vintage sound recordings of Sousa’s favorite compositions remain available in digital form. Click the audio links below to enjoy the most popular patriotic marches of this great American composer, starting with his most famous, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” (1896)
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.”— John Philip Sousa (1928)
Composed on Christmas Day in 1896, the march was an immediate success, and The Sousa Band played it at almost every concert until Sousa’s death more than 25 years later. It became the official march of the United States of America in 1987 through an Act of U.S. Congress.
“Semper Fidelis” (1888)
“The Washington Post” (1889)
“The Thunderer” (1889)
“The Liberty Bell” (1893)
“Manhattan Beach” (1893)
“King Cotton” (1895)
“El Capitan” (1896)
“Hands Across the Sea” (1899)
“The Fairest of the Fair” (1908)
“U.S. Field Artillery” (1917)
“The Washington Post” (2010)
To hear an example of a modern recording of a famous Sousa march, enjoy the following performance of “The Washington Post” by the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps on the 2010 broadcast of A Capitol Fourth.