Patriotic Song Story: Stars and Stripes Forever

The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a patriotic American march written and composed by John Philip Sousa, widely considered to be his magnum opus. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America.

John Philip Sousa

Sousa wrote in his autobiography, Marching Along, that he composed the march on Christmas Day 1896. “He was on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe and had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band. He composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States.”

The Stars and Stripes Forever has a standard U.S. Military march form and filed.

Sousa explained to the press “that the three themes of the final trio were intended to represent the three regions of the United States. The broad melody, or main theme, portrays the North. The South is represented by the famous piccolo obligato, and the West by the bold countermelody of the trombones. The three come together in the climax, representing the Union itself.”

The song was first performed on May 14, 1897 at Willow Grove Park, outside Philadelphia. The song was immediately met with great enthusiasm.

Sousa Directing civilian band in 1893

Sousa wrote lyrics to the song, although they are not as familiar as the music itself.

The song is very popular and heard at many American Patriotic events.  The song was also featured in the 1952 bio-film of Sousa, Stars and Stripes Forever.

The song is usually played after the President of the United States gives a speech.

John Philip Sousa

“In the early 20th Century, when it was common for theaters and circuses to have house bands, this march was a traditional code signaling a life-threatening emergency. It subtly notified personnel of emergency situations and ideally allowed them to organize the audience’s exit without causing the chaos and panic that an overt declaration might.” For this reason, it became known as “The Disaster March”. One example of it’s used was the July 6, 1944 Hartford Circus Fire in which at least 168 were killed.

The song has also been parodied and used for a variety of films and TV specials. It has also become popular with soccer fans.

Sousa died on March 6, 1932 at the age of 77.

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