Posted by: Kath Usitalo | November 6, 2012

The Stars & Stripes Forever!

The Stars and Stripes fly from the Friends Good Will, South Haven

Election Day 2012 happens to fall on the anniversary of the birth of John Philip Sousa. The “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” composer and conductor known for his American military and patriotic music was born in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 1854 and died on March 6, 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania.

The March King, John Philip Sousa

Greatest hits by “The March King” include “The Washington Post” and “Semper Fidelis” (Official March of the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he served).

We hear one of his 136 marches every weekday morning at 7:15 when Detroit’s WRCJ (90.9 FM) gets our juices going with its “Sousa Alarm.”

In addition to the marches, according to this site dedicated to Sousa, he composed 70 other songs, 15 operettas, and other pieces.

Although Sousa was not a native Great Laker, he had a presence in the region. During World War I—at age 62—he joined the US Naval Reserve and, commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, was posted in Illinois where he led the Naval Reserve Band and earned a salary of $1 per month.

Sousa aficionado and Detroit Concert Band Conductor Leonard B. Smith

The man who was called “the successor to John Philip Sousa” spent most of his professional career in Detroit and left a highly praised, complete recording of The March King’s works.

Cornet and trumpet player, composer and band leader Dr. Leonard B. Smith came from New York in 1937 to perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. After playing with the U.S. Navy Band in World War II he returned to the city to found the Detroit Concert Band in 1946.

Smith led the traditional band until 1991, performing Sousa at the popular summertime concerts on Belle Isle (until 1980) and at the Michigan State Fairgrounds.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Smith and the Detroit Concert Band recorded more than 20 albums including the “Sousa American Bicentennial Collection” and the series of LPs, Gems of the Concert Band, which is now available in a five-CD set.

The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa by the Detroit Concert Band contains all of Sousa’s marches in a five-CD set.

Check out this performance of Sousa’s “The Thunderer March” conducted by Leonard B. Smith. Smith died in Arizona in 2002 at the age of 86.


***”The greatest college fight song ever written,” Sousa said of the University of Michigan’s “The Victors.” It was composed by U-M music student Louis Elbel in 1898.

John Philip Sousa and his band premiered the piece in 1899 in Ann Arbor.

*** As one of the most famous touring acts in the world, the Sousa band performed at many of the theaters across Michigan including The Calumet Theatre in the Upper Peninsula, the Michigan Theater in Detroit, Croswell Opera House in Adrian and Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater.

According to Interlochen Center for the Arts, a Sousa concert on July 27, 1930 “brought the fledgling camp to national prominence.”


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