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Statue Becomes First National Landmark Honoring John Philip Sousa

By #NAME? | | November 10, 2005

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Marine Barracks Washington and “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band unveiled an eight-foot bronze statue of John Philip Sousa at 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, the last day of the famous composer’s sesquicentennial (150th) year. Lieutenant General G.R. Christmas, USMC, (Ret.), President of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and Colonel John R. Bourgeois, USMC, (Ret.), 25th Director of the U.S. Marine Band and President of John Philip Sousa Foundation, performed the unveiling. The statue, sculpted by renowned artist Terry Jones, is the first national landmark dedicated to Sousa.


“The concept I had for the John Philip Sousa statue was to make the statue as monumental as his music,” sculptor Terry Jones said.


The Marine Band worked closely with Jones to ensure accuracy of the detailed Marine Band uniform and Sousa’s physical characteristics. The statue, which took eight months to sculpt, was bronzed at the Laran Bronze Foundry in Chester, Pa. Jones has sculpted other statues of historic American figures, including Ernest Hemingway, which stands in Key West, Fla., and General John Gibbon for Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa.


The Sousa statue was originally conceived by Captain Kenneth R. Force, USMS, and supported by John Philip Sousa, IV, the composer’s great grandson. Sponsorship of the statue was generously provided by Mickey Gordon, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The statue stands inside the gates of the new Marine Barracks Annex and Band Support Facility in southeast Washington, D.C., which was dedicated in 2004 on the famous composer’s 150th birthday.


“Sousa’s influence exists in all facets of the Marine Band today,” Executive Assistant to the Director Major John R. Barclay said. “His accomplishments are evident in the band’s musicianship, performance, training, administration and beyond.”


For John Philip Sousa, a life-long career in performance and composing led to a legacy that remains undiminished. Once a 13-year-old apprentice of “The President’s Own” under 14th Director Francis Maria Scala, Sousa grew to become not only the most legendary American bandmaster, but also the most celebrated composer of marches.


Sousa was born Nov. 6, 1854 at 636 G Street in southeast Washington, D.C., two blocks from the historic Marine Barracks where his father, Antonio, was a musician with “The President’s Own.” He attended grammar school in Washington, D.C., and for several of his school years was enrolled in a private conservatory of music where he studied piano and violin. At age 13, the young musician planned to join a circus band, but instead his father enlisted him into the Marine Band as an apprentice musician. Sousa’s initial four-year enlistment in the United States Marine Corps ended in 1871. He reenlisted just six months after his first discharge, and stayed with the band until May 18, 1875. Sousa was 20 years old when he was honorably discharged from “The President’s Own” for a second time.


After Sousa’s release from the Marine Corps in 1875, he remained in Washington, D.C., conducting and playing the violin. In 1876, after touring with several traveling theater orchestras, Sousa moved to Philadelphia where he worked as a composer, arranger and proofreader for several publishing houses. It was in Philadelphia that he cultivated his love for the operetta and other forms of music.


In 1879, Sousa toured the United States with a company that produced the musical Our Flirtation, for which he wrote incidental music and a march. Though Sousa had been raised around military band music, as an adult he embraced other musical forms, eventually composing 15 operettas, 11 waltzes, 11 suites and 70 songs, including many popular tunes.


While on tour with Our Flirtation, however, the Marine Band offered the 26-year-old Sousa the opportunity to become Director. On Oct. 1, 1880, Sousa returned to his military roots, enlisting as the Marine Band’s first American-born Director. His tenure as 17th Director lasted 12 years under five different presidents, and led the Marine Band to the prominence it enjoys today.


During his time as Director of “The President’s Own,” Sousa composed the marches that earned him the title “The March King,” including, “The Gladiator,” “Washington Post” and “Semper Fidelis,” the official march of the United States Marine Corps. A time capsule, which includes historical recordings of these marches, was placed inside the statue base.


In 1896, just four years after retiring from his tenure as Marine Band Director, the 42-year-old Sousa composed the most beloved of all American marches, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” This march was an immediate hit and remained so almost a century later, when in 1987 President Ronald Reagan sanctioned it as the official march of the United States. Today, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is heard both recorded and live in homes and communities across the nation, and is performed by “The President’s Own” more than 300 times each year.


“Sousa masterfully captured the American spirit, energy, and optimism in his marches,” Chief Librarian and Historian Master Gunnery Sergeant Michael Ressler said. “His works continue to express our country’s patriotism and are considered emblems of national pride.”


Today, “The President’s Own” mirrors the Marine Band of Sousa’s time. The famous bandmaster set in motion the very structural elements that form the backbone of the modern Marine Band — diverse instrumentation and repertoire; high standards of musicianship; an extensive library of music including original Sousa compositions, arrangements and transcriptions; regular recording of Marine Band music; an annual concert tour of the United States; and a vast, wide-reaching campaign for marketing and publicity. It has been more than a century since John Philip Sousa retired from “The President’s Own,” but his influence continues.


“John Philip Sousa’s successes as a conductor and composer rival the greatest performers of all time,” Major Barclay said. “ ‘The President’s Own’ owes its present-day distinction to Sousa’s advancements, his commitment and his skill.”

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