Marine Band concert tours began in 1891 under the leadership of John Philip Sousa. Sousa had taken the band on short trips to perform in nearby cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, but no extended concert tour had been attempted. Sousa’s initial requests for permission to take the band on such a trip were denied. The band’s extremely busy concert schedule in Washington, D.C., and the responsibilities at the White House were cited as reasons for the denial. But Sousa persisted and eventually presented his request directly to President Benjamin Harrison. In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa recalls what transpired. He wrote:
My years in Washington had taught me that if you wish to see the President, see his wife first. So I asked for Mrs. Harrison. She liked the idea of a tour and promised to speak to the President about it. Next morning I was summoned to see the President. As I entered the room, he rose, shook hands cordially, and leading me to one of the windows which faced the Potomac River, said, “Mrs. Harrison tells me that you are anxious to make a tour with the band. I was thinking myself of going out of town, and”—with a smile—“it would be tough on Washington if both of us were away at the same time. I have thought it over, and believe the country would rather hear you than see me; so you have my permission to go.”
The 1891 tour took “The President’s Own” to 32 cities and towns in New England and the Midwest. The band performed two different programs: one for matinees and another for evening concerts. Both included Sousa’s unique blend of popular music and orchestral transcriptions, as well as his own compositions. Although the audiences clamored for Sousa’s marches, he included them only as encores, offering his audiences what he called the “solid fare” of Richard Wagner, Georges Bizet, Giuseppi Verdi, Franz Schubert, Hector Berlioz, and others. Sousa launched the band’s second concert tour in 1892, this time through 37 cities to the Pacific Coast and back. When this tour proved even more successful than the first, Sousa decided to leave “The President’s Own” to form his own civilian band.
After Sousa left the Marine Band in 1892, “The President’s Own” made only five tours—1901, 1907, 1911, 1912, and 1915—before traveling yearly between 1920 and 1931. The band suspended its tours during the Depression years of 1932-1934, but took to the road again in 1935 and continued until 1942. During World War II, the band played many additional performances in Washington, D.C., and at the White House to boost wartime morale. The Marine Band’s national concert tours resumed in 1946, and have continued every year since except 2013 due to sequestration and 2020 due to global pandemic.