“King Cotton” (1895)
It is a curious fact of the music world that marches written for fairs and expositions almost always fade into oblivion. Two notable exceptions are Sousa’s “King Cotton” and “The Fairest of the Fair.” The former was written for the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895, and the latter for the Boston Food Fair of 1908.
Sousa and his band had great drawing power at fairs and expositions and were much sought after. But officials of the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta attempted to cancel their three-week contract with the Sousa Band because of serious financial difficulties. At Sousa’s insistence they honored their contract, and at the first concert they became aware of their shortsightedness. Atlanta newspapers carried rave reviews of the band’s performances. For example:
...The band is a mascot. It has pulled many expositions out of financial ruts. It actually saved the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco. Recently at the St. Louis and Dallas expositions Sousa’s Band proved an extraordinary musical attraction, and played before enormous audiences. It is safe to predict that history will repeat itself in Atlanta, and that the band will do the Exposition immense good. A great many people in South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia have postponed their visit to the Exposition so as to be here during Sousa’s engagement, and these people will now begin to pour in.
Sousa’s latest march, “King Cotton,” has proved a winner. It has been heard from one end of Dixie to the other and has aroused great enthusiasm and proved a fine advertisement for the Exposition.
The Sousa Band did indeed bring the exposition “out of the red,” and the same officials who had tried to cancel Sousa’s engagement pleaded with him to extend it. “King Cotton” was named the official march of the exposition, and it has since become one of the perennial Sousa favorites.
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 43. Used by permission.