John Philip Sousa doing his best Clifton Webb impersonation. . .
With this being the 4th of July weekend, there is nothing quite as quintessentially American as the military and patriotic music of John Philip Sousa.
While best known for “The Washington Post", "Semper Fidelis" (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" - Sousa composed more than 130 marches, more than a dozen operettas, and a number of (mostly forgettable) songs.
Born in 1854, in Washington D.C., Sousa began playing the violin at the age of six. His father was a trombonist in the Marine band, and when John was 13, his father enlisted him into the Marines to keep him from running away to the circus.
Sousa served a 7-year apprenticeship with the Marine band before leaving. Over the years, Sousa mastered a number of instruments and, after joining a pit orchestra, learned to conduct.
He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its conductor 1880, a post he retained for 12 years. Sousa led "The President's Own" band under five presidents (1880-1892).
In 1892 Sousa formed his own band, and over the next 39 years toured extensively, giving over 15,000 concerts. His personal appearances, and records, made him independently wealthy and the most famous bandleader of his time.
The highly enjoyable bio pic The Stars & Stripes Forever (1952), staring Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, and Debra Paget takes some liberties with the plot (Wagner’s Willie Little character appears to be entirely fictitious), but is nonetheless a well mounted (for Hollywood) attempt to tell the story of `The March king.’
Sadly, the movie is not in the public domain, but shows up on cable often.
Given the era when Sousa reigned, it isn’t surprising to find a large number of early Sousa recordings available free online. As always, the Internet Archive proves to be a treasure trove of these recordings.
The sound quality of many of these old 78’s can range from fair to poor, but nonetheless are fascinating audio clips from more than one hundred years past.
We’ve 18 historical recordings made between 1895 and 1918 featuring the Sousa’s Band, with everything from a boisterous cakewalk, to a Viennese Waltz, to the march music one expects.
For better sound quality, we can turn to the Pride of the 48 Band (produced in 1958) doing 10 Sousa selections.
The Pride of the 48 Band.
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER.
WASHINGTON POST MARCH.
KING COTTON MARCH.
FAIREST OF THE FAIR.
MANHATTAN BEACH MARCH.
LIBERTY BELL MARCH.
HANDS ACROSS THE SEA.
And lastly, from Youtube, three variations on Sousa’s most enduring composition - The Stars and Stripes Forever.
First, the traditional symphonic treatment by the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Next, the famous Vladimir Horowitz transcription of the Stars and Stripes Forever. Played somewhat slower than by most bands, Horowitz gives amazing feeling to the piece.
And lastly, the incomparable Chet Atkins showing us how it’s done on the guitar.
Happy Fourth of July to everyone!