Donna Teresa: John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" lives on
Donna Teresa Homefront Journal
Monterey County Herald
Updated:06/30/2009 01:28:30 AM PDT

I t is known as the official march of the United States of America, and for generations, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" has remained a traditional, historical piece of American music that renews the spirit, especially on the Fourth of July.

John Philip Sousa — the composer, arranger, conductor and military man serving in the United States Marines and Navy — would let his heart be the inspiration to write such patriotic masterpieces.

Born in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 1854, Sousa attended public school as well as a music conservatory. Sousa's father was a musician with the United States Marine band, which was founded in 1798 by an act of Congress. John Philip Sousa followed in his father's footsteps and learned to play many musical instruments. The violin would be one of his favorites.

Sousa's father persuaded him not to join a circus band but instead join the Marine band as an apprentice musician at age 13. He stayed with the band until he was 20 and later became the band's 17th director, serving from 1880-1892. He earned the title "The March King."

The United States Marine Band continues today to strive for Sousa's perfection and excellence. The band remains America's oldest musical organization, performing more than 500 concerts every year throughout the nation. They are favorites of presidents, honored dignitaries and civilians alike.

Sousa created numerous marches, operettas, suites, and other vocal, musical pieces that continue to be played in concerts to this day.

Perhaps lost in all his musical genius was Sousa's incredible optimism. A humble and religious man, his quest for tolerance and love of his country showed in every note he composed.

I think John Philip Sousa would be very touched to know that his music continues to inspire people, people who are searching for optimism and for something to feel good about, especially during these tough times.

Sousa died March 6, 1932, and was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He received many honors and accolades, but his induction into the Hall of Fame of Great Americans in 1973 remains possibly his finest. He joined a remarkable group of only 102. For more than 100 years, we have clapped our hands and waved our flags to the beat of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Sometimes the lyrics that Sousa wrote with the music are forgotten. Here's an excerpt:

"Hurrah for the flag of the free!

May it wave as our standard forever,

The gem of the land and the sea,

The banner of the right.

Let despots remember the day

When our fathers with mighty endeavor

Proclaimed as they marched to the fray

That by their might and by their right

It waves forever."

Happy Fourth of July to our veterans and troops stationed all over the world, a big salute to marching and concert bands everywhere, especially to those who wear the military uniform. Thank you, John Philip Sousa, a high note in American music history.

Donna Teresa can be reached at