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In the last half of the 1800s, Austria had its waltz king - Johann Strauss Jr. - and America had its march king - John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). Sousa was known the world over as a band leader and the composer of dozens of marches, as well as of operettas, orchestral suites, and songs. Interestingly, Sousa started his musical studies on the violin, but soon he became proficient on wind instruments, so that by age 13 he was playing in the Marine Band. Before he was 18, he was leading an orchestra in a vaudeville theater in his native Washington, D.C.
Sousa's band activities began in earnest in 1880, when he was appointed leader of the Marine Band; twelve years later he resigned to organize a band of his own, with which he gave concerts around the world. In addition to his musical activities, Sousa was a novelist with five books to his credit, and he also published an autobiography titled, appropriately enough, Marching Together.
The three marches on tonight's program are American classics. The Washington Post was completed by Sousa in 1889, a commission for the Washington Post newspaper award ceremonies for promising journalists and essayists. Sousa penned Semper fidelis in 1888. The march takes its title from the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps: Semper fidelis - Always Faithful. It was dedicated to those who inspired it - the officers and men of the United States Marine Corps. In Sousa's own words: "I wrote Semper fidelis one night while in tears, after my comrades of the Marine Corps had sung their famous hymn at Quantico." It became one of his most popular marches, and Sousa himself considered it his best. The Stars and Stripes Forever! was written in 1896 while Sousa was aboard ship from England to the United States. Words, penned by Sousa, were included in a "song" version which was published in 1898.
— from notes by Orrin Howard and Dave Kopplin