Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26. In 1892 he formed Sousa and his Band, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim. Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.
Marcus L. Neiman of the Band Music PDF Library says of Washington Post March:
During the 1880’s, several Washington, DC, newspapers competed vigorously for public favor. One of those, the Washington Post, organized what was known as the Washington Post Amateur Authors’ Association and sponsored an essay contest for school children. Frank Hatton and Beriah Wilkins, owners of the newspaper, asked Sousa, then leader of the Marine Band, to compose a march for the award ceremony.
The ceremony was held on the Smithsonian grounds on June 15, 1889. President Harrison and other dignitaries were among the huge crowd. When the new march was played by Sousa and the Marine Band, it was enthusiastically received, and within days it became exceptionally popular in Washington.
The march happened to be admirably suited to the two-step dance, which was just being introduced. A dancemaster’s organization adopted it at their yearly convention, and soon the march was vaulted into international fame. The two-step gradually replaced the waltz as a popular dance, and variations of the basic two-step insured the march’s popularity all through the 1890s, and into the 20th century. Sousa’s march became identified with the two-step, and it was as famous abroad as it was in The United States. In some European countries, all two-steps were called “Washington posts.” Pirated editions of the music appeared in many foreign countries. In Britain, for example, it was known by such names as “No Surrender” and “Washington Grays.”
Next to “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post” has been Sousa’s most widely known march. He delighted in telling how he had heard it in so many different countries, played in so many different ways — and often accredited to native composers. It was a standard at Sousa Band performances and was often openly demanded when not scheduled for a program. It was painful for Sousa to relate that, like “Semper Fidelis” and other marches of that period, he received only $35 for it, while the publisher made a fortune. Of that sum, $25 was for a piano arrangement, $5 for a band arrangement, and $5 for an orchestra arrangement.
Today, at a community room in Washington, a spotlight illuminates a life-size color portrait of the black-bearded Sousa, resplendent in his scarlet Marine Band uniform. This is the John Philip Sousa Community Room in the Washington Post Building. It is the newspaper’s tribute to the man who first gave it worldwide fame.
Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”
Washington Post is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free. I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.
Read this 2014 account of how Washington Post came to be, from the venerable paper itself.
This is really how Washington Post ought to sound. At the Festival of Winds, we will likely do it with a bit less dynamic nuance.
Still, Washington Post appears in many different incarnations, some more authentic than others. Observe: