The Life of John Philip Sousa

1. Early Life

John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., the third of ten children of João António de Sousa (John Anthony Sousa) (22 September 1824 – 27 April 1892), who was born in Spain, though of Portuguese ancestry, and his wife Maria Elisabeth Trinkaus (20 May 1826 – 25 August 1908) from Fränkisch-Crumbach, who was of German ancestry.[3][4] He began his music education under the tuition of John Esputa Sr., who taught him solfeggio.[5] This was short-lived, however, because of the teacher's frequent bad temper.[5] His real music education began in 1861 or 1862 as a pupil of John Esputa Jr., the son of his previous teacher under whom Sousa studied violin, piano, flute, several brass instruments, and singing.[5] Esputa shared his father's bad temper, and the relationship between teacher and pupil was often strained, but Sousa progressed very rapidly and was also found to have perfect pitch.[5] He wrote his first composition "An Album Leaf" during this period, but Esputa dismissed it as "bread and cheese" and the composition was subsequently lost.

2. Education

  His father was a trombonist in the Marine Band, and he enlisted Sousa in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice at age 13 to keep him from joining a circus band.[6] In the same year, he began studying music under George Felix Benkert.[7] Sousa was enlisted under a minority enlistment meaning that he would not be discharged until his 21st birthday.  

3. Career

   Sousa completed his apprenticeship in 1875 and began performing on the violin.[8] He then joined a theatrical pit orchestra where he learned to conduct.[8] He returned to the Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor until 1892. He led "The President's Own" band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison. His band played at the inaugural balls of James A. Garfield in 1881 and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.[9][10]

The marching brass bass or sousaphone is a modified helicon created in 1893 by Philadelphia instrument maker J. W. Pepper at Sousa's request, using several of his suggestions in its design. He wanted a tuba that could sound upward and over the band whether its player was seated or marching. C.G. Conn recreated the instrument in 1898, and this was the model that Sousa preferred to use.[11]Sousa organized

The Sousa Band the year that he left the Marine Band, and it toured from 1892 to 1931 and performed at 15,623 concerts,[12] both in America and around the world,[13] including at the World Exposition in Paris and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.[3][14] In Paris, the Sousa Band marched through the streets to the Arc de Triomphe, one of only eight parades that the band marched in during its 40 years  

4. Personal Life

  On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (1862–1944),[3] and their children were John Philip, Jr. (April 1, 1881 – May 18, 1937), Jane Priscilla (August 7, 1882 – October 28, 1958), and Helen (January 21, 1887 – October 14, 1975).[19] All were buried in the John Philip Sousa plot in the Congressional Cemetery. Jane was descended from Adam Bellis who served in the New Jersey troops during the American Revolutionary War.[20]

  On March 15, 1881, the "March King" was initiated to the Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Hiram Lodge No. 10, Washington, DC and later became Master Mason for 51 years.[21][22]

Late in his life, Sousa lived in Sands Point, New York. He died of heart failure at age 77 on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had conducted a rehearsal of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" the previous day with the Ringgold Band as its guest conductor.[22] He is buried in Washington, D.C.'s Congressional Cemetery.[23] His house Wild Bank has been designated a National Historic Landmark, although it remains a private home and is not open to the public.[24]

5. Legacy

Sousa was decorated with the palms of the Order of Public Instruction of Portugal and the Order of Academic Palms of France. He also received the Royal Victorian Medal from King Edward VII of the United Kingdom in December 1901 for conducting a private birthday concert for Queen Alexandra.[25][26]

In 1922, he accepted the invitation of the national chapter to become an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity.[27] In 1932, he was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity's Alpha Xi chapter at the University of Illinois.[28][unreliable source?]

The World War II Liberty Ship SS John Philip Sousa was named in his honor.

In 1952, 20th Century Fox honored Sousa in their Technicolor feature film Stars and Stripes Forever with Clifton Webb portraying him. It was loosely based on Sousa's memoirs Marching Along.[29]

In 1987, an act of Congress named "The Stars and Stripes Forever" as the national march of the United States.[30]

He was posthumously enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1976

7. Links and Further Reading

8. Videos and More

Introducing the Foundation

The John Philip Sousa Foundation is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the promotion of international understanding through the medium of band music. Through the administration of band related projects, the foundation seeks to uphold the standards and ideals of that icon of the American spirit, John Philip Sousa.Just as the name Sousa is synonymous with bands, so bands are bridges which connect the music and culture of all strata of our society. And no type of music better typifies the spirit of America throughout the world than do the stirring strains of a Sousa march.The foundation administrates band-related projects such as:   

  1. The Sousa National High School Honors Band
  2. The Sousa National Community Band
  3. The Sudler Trophy
  4. The Sudler Flag
  5. The Sudler Cup, Shield and Scroll
  6. The Legion of Honor
  7. The Historic Roll of Honor
  8. The Historical Marker project
  9. National Young Artist Solo Competition  

The Sousa Foundation seeks to uphold both the standards and the ideals of that icon of the American spirit, John Philip Sousa


Executive Committee

Name Title Email
Lowell Graham President & CEO
Michael Colburn Vice President - Project Enhancement
Jay Gephart Chairman of the Board
Roy Holder Vice President for Operations
Gerald Guilbeaux Vice President-Treasurer
Doug Harter Vice President for Finance & Investment
Tim Rhea Vice President-Secretary

Project Managers

Project Manager Email
The Sudler Flag of Honor Roy Holder
The Sousa Foundation Sudler Cup Louis Bean
Bethann Adams
The Sousa Foundation Sudler Silver Scroll Gail Brechting
The Sousa Foundation Sudler Shield W. Dale Warren
The Sousa Foundation Sudler Trophy Michael Golemo
Historic Roll of Honor
National Community Band Gerald Guilbeaux
Sousa-ABA-Ostwald Composition Contest Tom Caneva
Al & Gladys Wright Band Lifetime Achievement Award Michael Colburn
The Howard Citation Bruce Gilkes
Junior Honor Band Project Jena McElwain
Linda Thompson
Tom Reynolds
Debbie Bradley
Legion of Honor Terry Austin
National High School Honor Band Tom Reynolds
Hawkins Scholarship Tom Reynolds
National Young Artists Nicole Gross
Photo Gallery
The Historical Marker Doug Harter
Sousa Statue

Board of Directors

Director Email
Keith Brion
Shelby Chipman
Amanda Drinkwater
Jason Fettig
Jerry Junkin
James Keene
Thomas Leslie
Pam Potter
Tabor Stamper
Zack Sudler
Louis Sudler Jr.

Board of Directors - Emeritus

Director Email
Russel Hammond
Don Wilcox

Website Developer

Name Email
Hunter Hewitt