Before television, movies, radio, or sound recordings, people either had to learn to play musical instruments or attend concerts to experience music. Wind bands provided the majority of concerts. In the golden age of American wind bands, none was as successful and well known as Sousa’s Band.
John Philip Sousa gained the experience and reputation needed to start a successful touring band as leader of the U.S. Marine Corps Band, America’s oldest professional musical ensemble. Before Sousa, it functioned as little more than Washington, DC’s town band. In his twelve years of service, Sousa transformed it to a nationally recognized band.
Under his leadership, the Marine Band started recording for the Columbia Record company. Sousa’s marches became some of the earliest hit records.
After years of trying, Sousa obtained permission to take it on tour. He hired David Blaikley, the former manager of the Gilmore Band, to organize the first tour throughout the Midwest. Its success encouraged a second tour that took the band as far as San Francisco. The success of that tour directly led to the end of Sousa’s leadership of the Marine Band and the formation of Sousa’s Band. Continue reading →
The United States Marine Band is the oldest professional musical organization in the country. John Philip Sousa, its most famous leader, elevated it from a town band in Washington D.C. to a national touring band.
In exploring Sousa’s accomplishments, it is necessary to describe the history of the Marine Band. As it turns out, the band would not have needed a leader of Sousa’s qualifications without the previous efforts of another remarkable musician, Francis Scala. Continue reading →
Francis Johnson, also known as Frank Johnson, was among the first noteworthy American composers of instrumental music. He was the first black composer to have his music published. His band was among the first to achieve a nationwide reputation and tour extensively. And it was the first to go on a foreign tour. Johnson was also among the first musicians to participate in interracial performances.
Although there was some speculation that Johnson was born in Martinique, historians have determined that he was born in Philadelphia as a free black on June 16, 1792. And it’s certainly in Philadelphia where he made his first mark.
Johnson’s childhood, early musical training, and personal life are little known, but he was playing music professionally in Philadelphia by 1812. He probably first gained attention as a fiddler for dances. He later became known for performances on multiple instruments, especially violin and keyed bugle. Continue reading →