“Transit of Venus” (1883)
It is not known whether or not Sousa witnessed either of the two transits of Venus that occurred in his lifetime, but the phenomenon was the basis for the title of this march and also for one of his three novels.
The march received its première at a concert of the U.S. Marine Band on April 19, 1883, with Sousa conducting. The occasion was the unveiling of a statue of Joseph Henry, first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who had died in 1878. Henry, as president of the National Academy of Sciences, had been responsible for proper observation of the transit of Venus in 1874.
There is nothing in Sousa’s or Henry’s memoirs suggesting that the two were personally acquainted, but it is possible because they both lived in Washington at the same time. Inasmuch as several members of the National Academy of Sciences were present at the unveiling of Henry’s statue, it is likely that the march was intended as a salute to both Henry and the Academy.
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 90. Used by permission.