John Philip Sousa

From Wind Repertory Project
John Philip Sousa


John Philip Sousa (6 November 1854, Washington, D.C. – 6 March 1932, Reading, Pennsylvania) was America's best known composer and conductor during his lifetime.

Sousa was born the third of 10 children of John Antonio Sousa (born in Spain of Portuguese parents) and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus (born in Bavaria). John Philip's father, Antonio, played trombone in the U.S. Marine band, so young John grew up around military band music. Sousa started his music education, playing the violin, as a pupil of John Esputa and G. F. Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. When Sousa reached the age of 13, his father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice. Sousa served his apprenticeship for seven years, until 1875, and apparently learned to play all the wind instruments while also continuing with the violin.

Several years later, Sousa left his apprenticeship to join a theatrical (pit) orchestra where he learned to conduct. He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880, and remained as its conductor until 1892. He organized his own band the year he left the Marine Band. The Sousa Band toured 1892-1931, performing 15,623 concerts. In 1900, his band represented the United States at the Paris Exposition before touring Europe. In Paris, the Sousa Band marched through the streets including the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe – one of only eight parades the band marched in over its forty years.

Sousa wrote 136 marches. He also wrote school songs for several American Universities, including Kansas State University, Marquette University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota. Sousa died at the age of 77 on March 6th, 1932 after conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band in Reading, Pennsylvania. The last piece he conducted was The Stars and Stripes Forever.

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