Willow Grove Park - John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa  
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John Philip Sousa

The March King : The Uniqueness of Sousa:

John Bourgeois, the former conductor of the U. S. Marine Band, said of Sousa: "First, Sousa stood for integrity. He stood for the highest standards in music and had been educated in theory, composition and violin from the time he was a child. Like Mozart, Sousa could virtually pluck sound from mid-air and record it perfectly. Yet even with this great talent, he was also a scholar who never lost his desire to learn and to expand his knowledge. His integrity was founded in the highest musical standards, and he was a complete musician in every way.
Second, Sousa was an innovator. We don't often think of him as such - until we look at him within the context of his own era. When Sousa took over leadership of the Marine Band in 1880, his first act was to change the band's repertoire, displacing mediocrity with the finest music available from Europe. He wanted new music, substantial music for his band. He wanted the best music by the best composers of the day as well as the past. He was a champion of new music by composers like Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. A study of Sousa's concert programs will reveal works by these composers listed as "new compositions" as controversial in their day as avant-garde offerings are today." ( from BANDWAGON MAY-JULY 1995)

A Brief Biographical Sketch

From the park’s promotional material:
"As the first ten children, he began life at the head of the parade (in 1854). His father, Antonio, was a Portuguese immigrant, who later played trombone in the U. S. Marine Band. Home in Washington, D. C. was an exciting place to be in that Civil War time: Patriotic feelings ran high - and march music was heard everywhere. It stirred the young boy’s soul.
At the age of ten, he was a promising violinist and at thirteen formed his own Quadrille Band and began attracting attention as a violinist. But like many young boys, he decided to run off to join the circus. His parents found out, however, and he was abruptly whisked off for an enlistment in the Marine Corps, as an apprentice in the band."
In 1876 he became one of the first violinists in the orchestra conducted by Offenbach (in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exposition) and later married a Philadelphia girl, Jeanie Bellis, in 1879.
He became head of the U. S. Marine Band in 1880; and served in that capacity under Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland and Harrison.
On July 29, 1892 President Benjamin Harrison presented Sousa with a gold baton, appropriately inscribed, for this service as leader of the Marine Band , and for his march, "Semper Fidelis" (always faithful), which had become the Corps’ official song. Shortly thereafter Master Sergeant Sousa resigned from the Marine Corps. and formed his own concert band.
In 1892, after the death of Patrick S.Gilmore that same year, (leader of the country’s first successful concert band), nineteen of the that band’s members joined Sousa. These men became the nucleus of Sousa’s own great band...
In 1897, aboard ship, returning home from Europe he composed the music and words to his most famous single work: The Stars and Stripes Forever."
Paul Bierley, in his biography John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon writes extensively about Sousa’s involvement at Willow Grove and explains how Sousa (at age sixty-two) enlisted in the U. S. Naval Reserve Force to train young bandsmen at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center during World War I. However, he was granted leave during the summer months of 1917 and 1918 to fulfill engagements of the Sousa Band. He twice declined promotions, but was promoted to lieutenant commander after his release from active duty. He wore this uniform in the 1920’s. Bierley’s books provide the most in-depth research into Sousa and his works.
John Philip Sousa and his band played at Willow Grove park from 1901 to 1926, except for the year 1911, when the band was on a world tour. His last performance at WILLOW GROVE was in 1926 at a special 25th Anniversary engagement.
He continued to tour the country with his band. He and Victor Herbert also helped to found (ASCAP) to help copyright protection. On May 6, 1932, while in Reading (PA) to guest conduct the Ringhold Band, he died after rehearsal.

Information from:
Abington Township Activities Calendar 1977.
John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon by Paul Bierley
The Works of John Philip Sousa by Paul Bierley
Willow Grove Park, Philadelphia’s Fairyland (1909) by Leigh Mitchell Hodges
Willow Grove Park, A Look Back in Time to Another Era of Entertainment by Ray Thompson

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