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date: 20 January 2020

Sousa, John Philiplocked

  • Paul E. Bierley

Extract

(b Washington DC, Nov 6, 1854; d Reading, PA, March 6, 1932). American composer, bandmaster and author. Composer of the official national march of the United States, The Stars and Stripes Forever, Sousa, who was known as the ‘March King’, was the most important figure in the history of bands and band music.

Both his parents were immigrants: his father, John Antonio, a trombonist in the US Marine Band, was born in Spain of Portuguese parents; his mother, Marie Elisabeth Trinkaus, was born in Bavaria. The family name was Sousa, despite stories that it was originally ‘So’, to which ‘USA’ was appended. John Philip, the third of ten children, was first educated at home because of poor health, and then attended local schools. In the evenings he attended the Esputa Conservatory of Music, where he studied singing, the violin, piano, flute and several brass instruments. At the age of 11 he organized an adult quadrille orchestra. He was about to run off with a circus band when his father had him enlisted as an apprentice musician in the US Marine Band at the age of 13. During the early Marine Band years Sousa performed professionally as a civilian violinist with several Washington theatre orchestras and probably also taught at the Esputa Conservatory. Meanwhile, he tried his hand at composition. He studied with George Felix Benkert, a Washington composer and conductor, and played the violin in Benkert's chamber orchestra....

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Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division
The New Grove Dictionary of American Music