John Philip Sousa

America's March King

Some of the 'cleanest' and most exciting and stirring music you will ever hear comes from John Philip Sousa marches.  The rhythms from the percussion section are right on the beat and fire up a person's inner spirit without any negative influence on the 'flesh'; the harmonies have no dissonance; there are often two or three melodies going on from within the march, none of which conflict or battle with the others - and the melodies are such that few listeners will ever forget!

Sousa coined the phrase, "canned music" and said that along with the invention of the phonograph, music will destroy America.  How right he was.

This page is here to give recognition to the Detroit Concert Band, under the direction of Leonard B. Smith, as well as to give folks an opportunity to learn about a Sousa march or two.

I suggest that you listen to and purchase the complete set of 116 marches, "The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa" and enjoy them all.  There are many many pages and information on Sousa and his music.  I say that Sousa music was written and performed at the peak of America's greatness - and every time I hear a sousa march, I get stirred.  When I hear 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' and see the American flags, I get tears in my eyes every time.

My own personal closest association to Sousa and his music have been:

Sousa is a relatively unknown feature of America's history that has fallen by the wayside, as have many other facets of America's earlier days of greatness.  I read where the Sousa Band played hymns to 10,000 people one night at the World's Fair - with all the people singing along.  What an experience that must have been.  THAT was what a real gazebo was used for!

And yes, Sousa was correct when he said music will destroy America.  In the late 1800's and early 1900's, every house had a piano and almost every club or organization had its own band, like businesses have softball teams today.  If they wanted to hear music in those days, they either had to play it themselves or hire out.  Today, we can barely keep a band in a school program let alone get an audience to listen.  Few people can play anything but a CD or Ipod, etc. and have no clue as to the language of music!

Yes, Sousa was right!

Detroit Concert Band
under the direction of Dr. Leonard B. Smith

Any 'march' you hear on my website, unless otherwise noted, will be a Sousa march,
played by the Detroit Concert Band under the direction of Dr. Leonard B. Smith.

The following notes are from the CD set, '"The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa"

 There is no intent to cheat on the copyright here - instead, I hope this page will spark many more people to seek out John Philip Sousa and his music for their own purpose through their own purchase.  (Any words in parenthesis are my short comment / comments)

No other composer is so readily identified with marches and the American concert band as John Philip Sousa.  Born November 6, 1854 in Washington DC, Sousa received his early music instruction on the violin.  He joined the US Marine Band at 13 as an apprentice musician; there he gained valuable experience while continuing his musical studies.  After 7 years, he was discharged and performed as a theater musician in Philadelphia and Washington.  During this period he began to compose works in many styles.
In 1880, he rejoined the Marine Band, this time as its leader.  During his 12 year tenure as director, the Marine Band became perhaps the finest concert band of its era.  He molded it into a brilliant symphonic ensemble and introduced the band and its audiences to many works from the orchestral repertoire.  His marches and other compositions grew in popularity, and Sousa quickly developed widespread celebrity status.  At one point, his 'Washington Post" march was the best known musical selection in America, and Sousa was the most famous musical personality of his day.

In 1892. Sousa resigned from the Marine Band to form his own civilian band.  For the next four decades, the Sousa Band became the most popular and successful American concert band of all time.  It attracted the finest players of its era, with Sousa's musical excellence and programming genius as two hallmarks of the band.  Of course, audiences could not get enough Sousa marches!  During its touring years, the Sousa Band traveled over one million miles (on trains) and made several trips to Europe as well as an around the world tour in 1910-1911.

Sousa's reputation extended beyond the musical prowess.  He was an American celebrity, a patriot, an accomplished writer, and a gentleman of the highest quality.  For years after his death, former Sousa bandsmen met annually as the Sousa Band Fraternal Society.  He was honored in many ways, including a U.S. postage stamp and countless awards, medals, proclamations and a host of other accolades.  He never retired; Sousa died suddenly on March 6, 1932, while in Reading, PA after conducting a band rehearsal (the last piece they rehearsed was the Stars and Stripes).  In 1987, Sousa's masterpiece, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was officially recognized as the National March of the United States of America.

The Detroit Concert Band

Leonard B. Smith formed the DCB in 1946. For over 40 years this all professional concert band presented concerts for the citizens of Detroit at such venues as Belle Isle, the Michigan State Fairgrounds, Meadowbrook and a host of other popular locations.  These concerts attracted individuals from all over the world and the band gained a worldwide reputation.

The 1969, the band was selected by the BBC to emulate the style of the Sousa Band in a documentary feature, The March King: John Philip Sousa.  In the 1970's, a soundtrack featuring the Detroit Concert Band was recorded for a documentary on the space shuttle at the request of Rockwell International.  In 1982, the DCB became the first concert band to record the entire soundtrack for a major documentary, "The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt."

The Detroit Concert Band's discography is immense and unparalleled.  In 1974, the DCB released the first in a series of albums containing the complete published marches of John Phillip Sousa.  A second series, Gems of the Concert Band, was introduced in 1979.  The Gem series includes a variety of classic concert band literature including marches, great overtures, virtuoso soloists, band spectaculars and other 'gems' of the vast band repertoire.  Two other albums, 'Soloists of the Detroit Concert Band' and 'Happy Holidays' met with wide acclaim.

According to Sousa biographer Paul E Bierly, "The Detroit Concert Band was regarded by several knowledgeable persons to be the finest civilian band in the world."

The roster of musicians who were members of the Detroit Concert Band over its 40-plus year history includes some of the finest instrumentalists of their time.  It included former and future members of major service bands, major symphony orchestras, and alumni of the Sousa and Goldman bands.  The legacy of the Detroit Concert Band and Leonard B. Smith rests with its thousands of stirring concert performances, its artistry and brilliance as captured on recordings and its unique capability of illustrating and preserving the classic American concert band style.

Leonard B. Smith


The musical accomplishments of Leonard B. Smith are dizzying diverse and legendary.  In a career spanning seven decades, Dr. Smith has maintained an enviable reputation as a conductor, composer, arranger, cornet and trumpet virtuoso, author, educator and lecturer.

Smith began the study of cornet at an early age in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was born in 1915.  He won a scholarship to the New York Military Academy and later attended the Emest Williams School of Music.  There, he studied cornet with Williams, composition and arranging with Mayhew Lake and Erik Leidzen, and conducting with Pierre Henrotte.  At the age of 21, SMith joined the Goldman Band as cornet soloist, and during one unprecedented stretch, he performed over 500 solos in 210 concerts!  In 1942, SMith joined the U.S.Navy Band, where he served until the close of WWII.  He performed on hundreds of occasions over the next several decades, retiring as a soloist in 1982.  Regarded as the finest cornet soloist of his generation, and at the peak of his popularity, he was billed as "America's Premier Cornet Soloist."

Also an accomplished trumpet artist, Smith was first trumpet with the Detroit Symphony while performing in the summers with Goldman.  He also appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Georges Barrere Little Symphony, and the Ford Sunday Evening Hour radio orchestra.  Millions listened over radio, as Leonard Smith was the trumpet player who, for 17 years, played the fanfare from "William Tell" Overture at the start of the "Lone Ranger" live broadcasts.

In 1941, the MIlls Music Co. issued his "American Champion" March, the first march of over 450 compositions and arrangements to be published.  He was a consultant for the immensely popular "First Division Band Method" published in the early 1960's and he composed or arranged dozens of instrumental solos that were correlated to the band method.  He authored "The Treastury of Scales" and for a time operated Bandland, a publishing firm that released  several landmark band arrangements.  His output includes 25 marches, several cornet solos, and an American Rhapsody.

In 1946, Smith returned to Detroit and organized his own concert band.  His fame grew to legendary status n the band world during this time.  He received countless honors, awards, citations and "keys to the city" from organizations worldwide.  From 1971 to 1997, he served as music director and conductor of Cleveland's famous "Blossom Festival Band" which consistently broke attendance records at its Independence Day and Labor Day concerts.  In 1990 Dr. Smith relocated the band office to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he continued to compose, arrange and operated his publishing enterprise as well as managed the affairs of the band.

The following excellent 'article' can be found amongst hundreds / thousands of 'articles' on John Philip Sousa.
This is just one - but it is a great one to read!
A Century Later, John Philip Sousa's Marches
Still Quicken the Pulse
June 05, 2012 | Howard Reich | Arts critic
This article can be found here!

What Scott Joplin did for ragtime and Jelly Roll Morton for jazz, John Philip Sousa achieved for another expression of the American spirit – the march.

But unlike Joplin and Morton, who helped create musical genres indigenous to this country, Sousa took on a European idiom and re-energized it. Anyone who has heard "The Stars and Stripes Forever" or "The Washington Post" marches – and who hasn’t? – knows that Sousa brought a palpably American optimism to this music.

More than that, he nurtured and championed the American sound in an era – the late 19th and early 20th centuries – when European culture dominated the concert world, nowhere more than in a rough-and-tumble America that hadn’t yet found its voice.

But does anyone remember who John Philip Sousa was?

“Lots of people know the name – fewer people know what he did or who he was,” says John Philip Sousa IV, the composer’s great grandson and co-author of “John Philip Sousa’s America: The Patriot’s Life in Images and Words” (written with Loras John Schissel).

“I had one young lady [while] I was checking out of a market, I gave her a check, she looked at the check and said: ‘Wow, what’s it like being related to such a great baseball player?’ …

“But if I hum a few bars of ‘The Stars and Stripes’ or ‘The Washington Post’ march, people immediately will say, ‘Yes!’”

Yet the ubiquity of Sousa’s music among high school marching bands and football half-time shows also has served to push these works into a kind of sonic background, easily recognized but just as easily ignored. The high degree of craft that went into these band pieces – which helps explain their enduring appeal – may be overlooked amid the pomp and circumstance they’re used to evoke.

Look at Sousa’s works purely as musical compositions, however, and they rank right up there with Joplin ragtime classics such as “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” or Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues” and “King Porter Stomp.” Like those works, Sousa’s best marches capture a world of thought and color in a few brief minutes, miniature masterpieces without an extraneous note or gesture. Many marches have been composed since Sousa’s death in 1932, at age 77, but have any really approached the grandeur of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” or the forward drive of “The Washington Post” or the rousing high spirits of “Semper Fidelis”?

No less than Leopold Stokowski, one of the most extravagantly gifted symphonic conductors of the 20th century, called Sousa “a genius whose music stands supreme as a symbol of the red-bloodedness of humanity in general.”

Indeed, above all this music conveys the message that victory is at hand, that all obstacles can be overcome – exactly what America wanted to hear as it began to ascend as a world power in the early 20th century.

“Sousa epitomized order out of chaos,” write Sousa IV and Schissel in the sumptuously illustrated “John Philip Sousa’s America.” “With a wave of a benevolent hand – an autocratically benevolent hand – Americans were somehow reassured that things were going to come out OK in the end. It was the great transition from an agricultural/rural America to an industrial/urban super power. And out of that noisy, cacophonist din came the measured, four-square, reassuring beat of the ‘Sousa March.’”

Though Sousa composed 17 light operas (only “El Capitan” gets regularly revived these days) plus books, concert pieces and songs, it’s the marches – 136 of them – that distinguish him. His love of the form came early in life, for he heard marches everywhere growing up in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. That his father played trombone in the United States Marine Band, including at the occasion of Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address, practically linked Sousa to this music by blood.

In 1880, at age 25, Sousa became the youngest leader of the United States Marine Band and later emerged a national figure on the popularity of compositions such as “The Washington Post.” It was Sousa who arranged for the Marine Band to begin touring, thereby spreading the fame of the institution and his music, but this was only the beginning. The estimated 14,000 concerts Sousa led during his lifetime, the recordings he released as early as the late 1880s and early 1890s and his apparently inexhaustible well of musical ideas – “If I put pencil to paper, music comes,” he once said – made him the living symbol of American band music.

“Sousa’s face,” the New York Times once noted, “is more recognizable to most Americans than that of the President of the United States.”

In 1892, Sousa left the Marine Band to start his own ensemble, presenting it at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago the following year.

“That band was launched in Chicago,” says co-author Schissel, a senior specialist in music at the Library of Congress.

Leading his own ensemble, Sousa built on his practice of commissioning band arrangements of music of Strauss, Verdi, Grieg and other classical masters. In so doing, he brought high culture to concert-band audiences that otherwise never would have encountered it live. “Sousa performed excerpts from (Wagner’s) ‘Parsifal’ in Grand Forks, N.D., a decade before it was heard in New York at the Metropolitan Opera,” write the authors.

And in 1900, he took his 60-piece band on the first of three European tours, showing the Continent what the upstarts on the other side of the ocean had created.

Europe could not believe its ears.

“The musicians are splendidly trained, not only in artistic education, but also in the custom of rhythmical musical expression,” noted the newspaper Tageblatt, in Leipzig, Germany.

“Sousa’s Band fairly rivals our Republican Guard Band,” conceded l’Aurore, in Paris.

Sousa reveled in these triumphs, and in what he felt they meant for the United States.

“During my concerts at the Paris Exposition in 1900,” he said, “‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ seemed to make a deep impression on the French people, and they spoke of it as the Musique Americaine with a greater frequency than they did of any other composition. One night, at a dinner, a brilliant Frenchwoman said to me that the march seemed to epitomize the character of our people. ‘For every time I hear it,’ she confessed, ‘it seems as if I can see the American Eagle throwing arrows into the Aurora Borealis.”

This response only encouraged Sousa, prompting him to take his band around the globe, visiting a dozen countries between 1910 and 1911. As America entered World War I in 1917, the United States Navy asked for his help in fund-raising, commissioning Sousa as lieutenant and watching him raise millions leading the Great Lakes Naval Training Center band.

If his music can sound somewhat jingoistic to contemporary ears – especially when it’s poorly played – it must be noted that this reflects Sousa’s view of the world. Or at least his view of America’s place in it.

“I don’t believe in an alliance between America and any other country,” he said. “We are strong and powerful and prosperous enough on our own account, without making alliances with anybody or anything.”

Then, again, what some might interpret as musical bombast Sousa himself saw simply as his means of seizing an audience’s attention and holding it.

“My theory was first to reach every heart by simple, stirring music; secondly, to lift the unmusical mind to a still higher form of musical art. This was my mission. The point was to move all America, while busied in its various pursuits, by the power of direct and simple music. I wanted to make music for the people, a music to be grasped at once.”

Regardless of how much or how little attention this music commands today, there’s no disputing Sousa’s impact on the meaning and stature of American music. As a co-founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), he helped assure that American composers received royalties from their work (although black composers were mostly excluded from such benefits for decades). Contrary to popular misconception, Sousa’s bands rarely marched, yet he created the template for the great marching band and concert band traditions that long have flourished in the Midwest and beyond.

A flute soloist flutist in Sousa’s band wrote the musical that to this day metaphorically celebrates his art on stages across America: “The Music Man,” by Meredith Willson, its ode to “Seventy-Six Trombones” as stirring a tribute to the all-American march as any Sousa himself composed. And though the 1952 film “Stars and Stripes Forever,” starring Clifton Webb and recently re-released on DVD, can most generously be described as “a Hollywood biography,” as John Philip Sousa IV puts it, the music speaks grandly of Sousa’s love of country.

“He was an inordinately proud American,” says his great grandson. “When he put his band together, while certainly there were immigrants in the band, it was an all-American band. And he was very, very proud, especially on the European tours and the around-the-world tour, to be taking an all-American band overseas and showing off American quality, American talent, American skills and American music....

“He was a wonderful ambassador for the United States.”

Two weeks Sousa’s death, he conducted a concert by a combined Army, Navy and Marine bands, which included his new piece, “The George Washington Bicentennial March.”

A fortnight later, on March 6, 1932, he led a rehearsal with the Ringgold Band in Reading, Pa., then “went up to his room and died,” says John Philip Sousa IV.

The last piece he rehearsed?

“The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

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