“Hands Across the Sea” (1899)
When played for the first time by Sousa’s Band in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music on April 21, 1899, “many feet were beating a tattoo.” The band was obliged to repeat it three times. “Hands Across the Sea” was off to a good start, and it has since remained a standard in band literature.
The march was addressed to no particular nation, but to all of America’s friends abroad. It has been suggested that Sousa was inspired by an incident in the Spanish-American War, in which Captain Chichester of the British Navy came to the support of Admiral Dewey at Manila Bay. A second (and more likely) source is a line by Frere, which was printed on the front cover of the sheet music: “A sudden thought strikes me—let us swear an eternal friendship.”
The line by Frere apparently appeared in a play which Sousa read. In answering questions sent to him while serving in the navy, he gave this account in the Great Lakes Recruit of March, 1918:
After the Spanish war there was some feeling in Europe anent our republic regarding this war. Some of the nations...thought we were not justified while others gave us credit for the honesty of our purpose. One night I was reading an old play and I came across this line, “A sudden thought strikes me,—let us swear an eternal friendship.” That almost immediately suggested the title “Hands Across the Sea” for that composition and within a few weeks that now famous march became a living fact.
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 43. Used by permission.