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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 222

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This is the grave of John Philip Sousa.

The composer and conductor of America’s soundtrack for imperialism and colonization, Sousa was born in Washington, DC in 1854. He arguably would become the first famous Portuguese-American, which was his father’s heritage. Sousa was a pretty great musician from the moment he picked up an instrument, which worried his military-oriented father. What was a musician of this time going to do? Well, dad thought he would run away to a circus, and I’m sure working in the popular theater of the time was no salve to his concerns. So Sousa’s father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, stuck the 13-year old kid in the Marines. Well, that did indeed channel his musical career.

Sousa did leave the Marines for awhile to conduct his own orchestra, but in 1880, Sousa took the job as head of the Marine Band. He would remain in that position until 1892. That was followed by creating the Sousa Band, which he led from 1892 until 1931. Soon on leaving the Marines again, he had the sousaphone invented, a modified tuba developed directly for marching bands. Throughout this period but especially in the 1880s-1900s, Sousa developed the Marines’ famous marches that fit perfectly into an increasingly aggressive nation seeking to take colonies overseas, which it would famously do in its grotesque actions in acquiring Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii in 1898, not to mention turning Cuba into a quasi-colony. In fact, when I think of American imperialism in its classic period, it never doesn’t have a Sousa soundtrack. I don’t doubt the genius of Sousa’s music in terms of defining a genre. The songs are very effective. This is however, to my mind, some of the most immoral music ever made in American history, an actual soundtrack to violence and war. In fact, Sousa toured the U.S. during the Spanish-American War to raise support for it through his music and his band headed the Broadway parade for Admiral Dewey after his unjust conquest of the Philippines.

Let’s listen to some of Sousa’s marches, starting with what in 1987 was named the National March of the United States.

Over his career, Sousa composed 137 marches and a variety of other works.

For what it’s worth, Sousa evidently was also one of the great trapshooters of his time.

He died after finishing a rehearsal in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932. The official Library of Congress bio of Sousa is subtle:

Sousa was a man of considerable self-discipline and extraordinary talent. He excelled in everything he undertook, yet he was unassuming, approachable, tolerant, and in possession of an almost saintly disposition. To all who knew him, he was a man of incredibly high moral standards. From his childhood, he was determined, and industrious, and in command of such an unbounded optimism that nothing seemed impossible to him.

Is that all?

John Philip Sousa is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

If you would like this series to visit other musicians involved in American war efforts, you can donate here to cover the expenses required for this series to continue. Who would not want to see this series to do a post on the Andrews Sisters? Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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