Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2007 Newsletter

Et Ceterata: John Philip Sousa Collection

Jacket, sheet music and photographic portrait

This black band jacket worn by John Philip
Sousa, photograph of Sousa, and sheet music for
Stars and Stripes Forever (1897) are part
of the Sousa collection at the Ransom Center.

The John Philip Sousa collection, part of the Ransom Center's Performing Arts collection, contains photographs, correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, souvenir programs, books, sheet music, legal documents, and a few personal effects of this great American musician.

John Philip Sousa was born November 6, 1854 in Washington, D.C. As a child growing up during the Civil War, he listened to the military bands that filled the streets of Washington. Found to have perfect pitch, Sousa began his musical training at the age of six, studying voice and violin. He regularly attended band rehearsals with his father Antonio, who played trombone with the U.S. Marine Band, and when he was 13, his father enlisted him in the United States Marine Corp as an apprentice musician with the band. He served seven years, and by the time he was discharged, he had learned to play all the wind instruments. After service in the Marines, Sousa worked as a violinist in vaudeville and theater orchestras. When he was 26, he was named Director of the United States Marine Band in Washington, D.C. During the years (1880-1892) that Sousa led this band, he added to its repertoire not only the work of Europe's then contemporary composers (such as Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and others) but also compositions of his own such as "President Garfield's Inauguration March" (1881), "Semper Fidelis" (1888), and "The Washington Post" (1889). "The March King," as he was nicknamed, was so popular that he left the Marine Band to start his own in 1892. The Sousa Band toured for 39 years and entertained millions of people around the world.

During his prime, John Philip Sousa was one of the best known musicians in the world. He was the composer of 136 marches, 15 operettas, not to mention countless songs, waltzes, suites, books, and numerous magazine articles. In 1987, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (1897) was declared the national march of the United States. John Philip Sousa died March 6, 1932 in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania.

The Sousa collection was donated to the Ransom Center by Joe E. Ward in 1970. Ward, a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, was an avid collector of Sousa memorabilia. He even served as a director in the John Philip Sousa Memorial Corporation.  

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