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 United States 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.

Frederick Fennell’s program notes to his edition of The Black Horse Troop tell the whole story of the march from a personal perspective:

The Black Horse Troop was completed December 30, 1924, at Sousa’s Sands Point, Long Island estate.  It was played for the first time about ten months later on October 17, 1925, at a concert of the Sousa Band in the Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio – and I was there.  I had not been to such an event as this one; I remember that as Sousa’s march was being played, Troop A rode the stage and stood behind the band to the tumultuous cheering of all.  The March King enjoyed a long relationship with the men and horses of Cleveland’s Ohio National Guard, known as Troop A.

Once again his special comprehension of the thrilling spectacle of regimental movement produced a compelling musical experience for both the player and the listener, commanding our particular awareness of his use of the trumpets and drums at various dynamic levels.

During the half-century of his career as the most successful bandmaster who ever lived, there was both reason and necessity for his creating these wonderful marches – and among them all The Black Horse Troop is a positive standout.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

The Black Horse Troop in a modern performance by the US Marine Band: