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John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known particularly for American military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as “The March King” or the “American March King” due to his British counterpart Kenneth J. Alford also being known as “The March King.” Among his best known marches are The Washington Post, Semper Fidelis (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and The Stars and Stripes Forever (National March of the United States of America).
Sousa’s father was Portuguese, and his mother of Bavarian ancestry. He began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition under John Esputa and George Felix Benkert. His father eventually enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. After departing the band in 1875, Sousa eventually learned to conduct. From 1880 until his death, Sousa began focusing exclusively on conducting and wrote marches during this time. He eventually rejoined the Marine Band and served there for 12 years as director. Upon leaving the Marine Band, Sousa organized his own band. He toured Europe and Australia and also developed the sousaphone, a large brass instrument similar to the tuba. On the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander and led the Naval Reserve Band in Illinois. Following his tenure there, Sousa returned to conduct the Sousa Band until his death in 1932.
Sousa lived in Sands Point, New York. A school (John Philip Sousa Elementary) and a band shell are named after him and there is also a memorial tree planted in nearby Port Washington. Wild Bank, his seaside house on Hicks Lane, has been designated a National Historic Landmark, although it remains a private home and is not open to the public.
Sousa died of heart failure at the age of 77 on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had conducted a rehearsal of The Stars and Stripes Forever the previous day with the Ringgold Band. He is buried in Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.