Select Page

5AHMP March on with John Philips Sousa and the Stars and Stripes Forever

5AHMP March on with John Philip Sousa and the Stars and Stripes Forever


One of the areas that I would like to focus on in this podcast series is our national symbols and other patriotic symbols that are associated with the United States. But what is a national symbol? How does it come to pass that something becomes a national symbol? What is our national march? How did the song receive it’s designation? What is known about the amazing life of its composer, John Philip Sousa? Let’s begin by learning about how something actually becomes a National Symbol of the United States.

A national symbol is somewhat different from a patriotic symbol because it has been officially designated as such after legislation has been passed by the Congress and signed by the President. The history behind the movement and passage of each of our national symbols is rich with interesting details and stories. The patriotic symbols that are frequently associated with our country, such as the Liberty Bell or the Statue of Liberty, have interesting stories associated with them as well. Many of them are protected by the National Park Service, or other official agency of the Federal Government, but they carry no official designation. Others may be protected by a state agency or a private entity.

After the President signs the legislation which designates something as a national symbol, that designation is incorporated into the US Code. What is the US Code? Well, the official definition, as found on the Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s US Code website, is as follows: “The United States Code is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives.” Simply put, it is an organization of the general and permanent laws of the United States into groups based upon subject matter. There are currently 54 chapter headings, or titles, and 5 appendices of the code.

Title 36 of the US Code is specifically devoted to “Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies and Organizations.” Specifically, Title 36, Subtitle 1, Part 1, Chapter 3 of the US Code includes the sections which designate our national anthem, motto, floral emblem, march, and tree. In this episode, we will focus on our national march. Section 304 of Title 36, Chapter 3, of the US Code states: “The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled The Stars and Stripes Forever is the national march.” Before we learn about the song itself, let’s focus on one of America’s most famous composers: John Philip Sousa.

John Philip Sousa was born on November 6th, 1854. He was the third of ten children born to John Antonio Sousa and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus. He grew up in Washington, D.C. where his father played trombone for the U.S. Marine Band. It was readily apparent that Sousa had a gift after he began studying music somewhere between the ages of six and seven. Within a few years could play the piano, violin, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn. He sang, as well. Sousa dreamed of playing in a circus band. That idea did not go over well with his parents. His father enlisted him in the Marines, at the ripe old age of 13, and Sousa became an apprentice musician with the Marine Band. Sousa began writing his own music, and published his first composition, Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes  when, he was only 18 years of age.

In 1875, he was discharged from the Marines. He began performing as first violinist for Jacque Offenback, but quickly moved on to conducting. It was during rehearsals for an on Broadway production of the H.M.S. Pinafore  that he met his future wife Jan van Middlesworth Bellis. They eventually married on December 30, 1879 and had three children.

Sousa returned to the Marine Band in 1880 as its leader and remained in that role until 1892. He and his band entertained Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison. He would later perform before President Hoover with the band he conducted after leaving the Marines. During that time, he composed many of his best known pieces, including Semper Fidelis and The Washington Post March. It is interesting to note that he sold The Washington Post March for $35.00. The band played publically at events such as President Cleveland’s wedding and in private performances for the First Family and their guests. Sousa meticulously attended to the preferences of those for whom he performed. He later recalled that Mrs. Hayes enjoyed American Ballads, while President Arthur’s sister preferred lighter music. Mrs. Cleveland often requested Nevin’s Good Night, Beloved, as well as his own marches.

As a side note, the United States Marine Band, which Sousa led, has an interesting background in and of itself. It is also known as “The President’s Own” band. It was founded in 1789 by an Act of Congress and charged with the purpose of providing music for the President and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The band’s first performance was before President John Adams in the yet unfinished White House on New Year’s Day in 1801, and it has performed at every Presidential Inauguration since Thomas Jefferson’s in 1802. Sousa was the Band’s 17th Director, and he is credited with raising its performance level to that of a world class band. The Band currently performs an average of 200 times each year. That includes an annual nationwide concert tour which was initiated by John Philip Sousa. Not only did Sousa conduct the “President’s Own” Marine Corps Band, but he served as the Sixth Army Corps Musical director during the Spanish-American War, and organized bands at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station as well.

John Philip Sousa was a true patriot with more than 19 years of military service and an obvious passion for writing patriotic music. His works include The Trooping of the Colors, The Liberty Bell, The Invincible Eagle, and Hail to the Spirit of Liberty.  He was known for wearing a military style uniform resplendent with medals. At the time of his death, the New York Times reported that he had the largest collection of music related medals in the world. He was a Mason, a member of the Sons of the Revolution, and the Army and Navy Gridiron Clubs of Washington, D.C.

In 1892, Sousa was convinced by David Blakely to resign from the Marines, and form his own band. It was to be the first of two life changing inspirations that Blakely would provide for Sousa. The band that Souse constructed was somewhat of a combination between a band and an orchestra. He discussed the thinking behind the band that he put together in a 1911 interview: “I had before me four distinct bodies, comprising the instrumental combinations, to select from. First, the purely brass band. Second, the so-called military band, differing in its composition in every country…Thirdly, the beer hall or casino string band…and fourthly, the symphony orchestra containing all the essentials for a perfect performance of the classical writers. I realized that each of these musical bodies was hemmed in by hide-bound tradition and certain laws as unchanging as those of the Medes and Persians. I carefully weighted the conditions surrounding these musical bodies and their governing influences and concluded to form a fresh combination in which I would be untrammeled by tradition and in a position to cater for the millions rather than the few…”

Sousa’s own band first performed on September 26, 1892 at the Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, New Jersey. The band he constructed and conducted, toured for 40 years. During that time a multitude of well-known musicians could be found amongst its ranks. In fact, the band swelled to more than 100 members at various times in its existence. It purportedly covered more than one and one quarter million miles during its tours, and visited cities great and small throughout the United States and the world. It represented the United States at the 1900 Paris Exposition and went on to be the first American based musical organization in more than a quarter century to tour the European continent. During four subsequent tours of Europe, Sousa and his band played before royalty such as Queen Victoria.

After launching his own band, Sousa sought to improve the tone and quality of the music which he performed for others. He inspired James Welsh Pepper to develop the Sousaphone in 1893 because he did not like the helicons used in the United States Marine Band. The instrument Pepper developed had a richer warm tone because its oversized bell pointed upwards in a manner similar to the upright tuba style found more commonly in Europe.

Throughout his career it was clear that he was not only concerned with the quality of the musical instruments in his band, but with the experience of his audience as well. For instance, he repeatedly refused to perform with his band over a radio broadcast. Although the performance would be heard by a greater audience, Sousa was fearful that his music would not be well received because of his inability to personally interact with the audience. Finally, in 1929, he was persuaded to conduct a one hour concert with 52 members of his 100 member band. He was richly rewarded for his reluctant change in attitude by being paid more than $50,000.00 for the performance. He was also reportedly overwhelmed with accolades and congratulations which most assuredly assuaged his misgivings about future radio performances.

After World War I, Sousa generously worked with high schools, and other youth groups, to promote the development of marching bands. He contributed a portion of the proceeds from his semi-annual tour toward the furtherance of music education. The John Philip Sousa Foundation continues his work even today by sponsoring the National Community Band, which coincidentally is currently led by the former director of the United States Marine Band, and the Junior Honors Band Project. You can learn more about the Foundation’s work by visiting

Although he is known as “The March King,” Sousa was a prolific composer of other types of music as well. His works includes 15 Operettas, 70 songs, 11 waltzes, 11 suites, 13 dances, 5 overtures, 7 other vocal works, 2 concert pieces, 4 instrumental solos, 12 trumpet and drum pieces, 322 arrangements and transcriptions, and of course, 135 marches.

Sousa was also a seemingly inexhaustible writer. His daughter believed that he would have become a reporter, if he had not become a musician. Sousa wrote 7 books, 27 letters to the editor, 14 humoresques, 28 fantasies, and 128 articles which appeared in magazines or newspapers. His love, not just of music, but of words as well was demonstrated by his announcement shortly prior to his death that he planned to set Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” to music.

Now, let’s move on to the fascinating story behind the composition of perhaps Sousa’s most famous piece of music: The Stars and Stripes Forever.


This would be David Blakely’s second life changing inspiration for Sousa. He wrote in his biography that he composed “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on Christmas Day in 1896. The tune for the song came to him while he was a passenger on the S.S. Teutonic. He was returning home from Europe upon learning of Blakely’s death. In Sousa’s own words from his autobiography, “Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career.  As the vessel steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager’s death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York.  Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain.  Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.”


The song which played in Sousa’s head was first performed on May 14, 1897 by his band in Willow Grove Park, Pennsylvania before President McKinley  at an unveiling ceremony of a statue of George Washington. His band continued to play the song at most every performance over the course of the next 25 years.


In keeping with his interest in writing, Sousa authored lyrics to The Stars and Stripes Forever. Although I have never heard the lyrics sung along with the music, I found them to be quite inspirational and wanted to share them with you as well:
Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.
Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.


How did it come to pass that The Stars and Stripes Forever became our national march? It was quite a lengthy process Although I had understood legislation proposing that the song be designated as our national march was first raised in 1976, I found 29 separate congressional resolutions proposing that designation. Some of them dated back to the early 1970’s. Each of those resolutions died in committee or was not enacted by Congress. It was not until the 100th Congress that action finally was taken. After more than 250,000 people signed petitions in support of the bill, Congress finally passed the legislation. That particular bipartisan resolution had been proposed by Democrats David Boren and Robert Byrd in the Senate and Republican James Quillen of Tennessee and Democrat Toney Coelho of California in the House. In discussing his decision to sponsor the legislation, Qullen said, ”Not only do Americans instantly recognize this stirring march as America’s march, but so do people all over the world…Whenever a band strikes up ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ people think of the United States.” Senator Boren noted that in the 18 months prior to passage of the legislation, there had been more than 2500 concerts performed at all levels of skill and experience, from high school to professional bands, as part of a “Tribute to Sousa” campaign. On December 11, 1987, President Reagan signed the bipartisan supported legislation into law. The memorandum issued by the White House regarding the legislation described the march as “an integral part of the celebration of American Life.


John Philip Sousa passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1932 at the age of 77. He died shortly after guest conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band prior to its scheduled 80th anniversary concert. The final piece of music he conducted? It was none other than The Stars and Stripes Forever. He was laid to rest in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. His memory has been honored by having a bridge in Washington, D.C., a World War II Liberty Ship, as well as the band hall at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., named or rededicated in his honor. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1976.

If you would like to learn more about John Philip Sousa or share information about his inspirational life with others, consider using the videos I have made available on YouTube. You can find them by searching for me, Dr. Susan Rempel, on or using the direct links on Search under the “Dr. Susan Rempel’s Books, Video, and More” tab to find a complete list of my videos.

What better way to end this episode than with a 1909 recording of John Philip Sousa conducting a rousing rendition of The Stars and Stripes Forever.

Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel encouraging you to remain motivated, vigilant, and engaged in the political process. Visit my website,, with more than 500 pages of documents, products, and information designed to motivate the modern patriot.

And now, I’ll leave you with the Stars and Stripes Forever








#starsandstripesforever, #nationalmarch, #USA, #teaparty, #JohnPhilipSousa

#right #sgp #rush #tpp #tpot #catcot #heritage #rebuild #tcot #pjnet #lnyhbt #wakeupamerica