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Travel Back in Time With the Sousa Band: Sousa Press Books Archive

9 Jun 2017 | Master Sgt. Amanda Simmons United States Marine Band

During his lifetime, John Philip Sousa might have been the most traveled person in the world, and now today’s audiences can get a glimpse into some of his adventures through a new online collection made available by the Marine Band Library.

Within two years of becoming the Marine Band’s Director, Sousa took the band out of Washington, venturing to nearby cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cape May, N.J., to perform for new audiences. In 1891 he requested permission from President Benjamin Harrison to take the band on its first national concert tour to New England and the Midwest. The success of this trip led him to take the band across the country and back the following year. The 1892 tour lasted 48 days with performances in 17 states including California, Oregon, and Washington.

Encouraged by the tremendous success of these trips, Sousa decided to leave the Marine Corps and form his own civilian band. The Sousa Band traveled extensively, performing in cities across the world for the next 40 years. Its first tour in late 1892 lasted more than 60 days. By 1900 plans were in place for the Sousa Band’s first European tour. Following a 67-day tour in the United States, the Sousa Band sailed for Paris. More than four months later, they departed Europe to return home, following a tremendously successful concert tour through France, Belgium, Germany, and Holland.

The band returned to Europe three times over the next five years but it was not until 1910 that Sousa and his band ventured beyond Europe in a trip that took them to most of the English-speaking world. They toured in the United States for 74 days beginning in August and then, on Christmas Eve, departed for Europe, beginning the 1911 World Tour. The tour took them to England, Ireland, Scotland, the Canary Islands, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, the Hawaiian Islands, and Canada, followed by an 80-day tour back across the United States. The final concert was held in the New York Hippodrome in New York City on Dec. 9, 1911. Albert Knecht, a saxophonist in the band, kept a detailed daily diary noting that the band covered more than 47,000 miles.

Knecht was not the only one keeping a record of these voyages. "From 1892-1932, spanning the entire existence of the Sousa Band, newspaper clippings and concert programs were saved and mounted in large scrapbooks," explains Marine Band Historian Gunnery Sgt. Kira Wharton. "These scrapbooks contain detailed information about Sousa Band performances including publicity materials, articles reviewing performances, and concert programs. Interviews with Sousa and articles written by him reveal a tremendous amount of information about Sousa the composer and conductor. The scrapbooks also include information about premières of Sousa’s compositions and the audience reception of these new works as well as information about members of the Sousa Band." The Sousa family originally donated the scrapbooks in 1970 to the National Museum of the Marine Corps. In order to preserve the information in the brittle newsprint, the books were microfilmed in 1977. In 1980, the scrapbooks were relocated to the Marine Band Library where they were photocopied onto acid-free paper before the pages were interleaved with acid-free tissue paper to slow the damage to the highly acidic newsprint. Through this well-preserved collection, Sousa Band fanatics can read about what a concert was like for the audience at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pa., in 1907, or the ambiance in Paris where they dedicated the George Washington Equestrian Statue at Place d’Iéna, or how Sousa felt about American music and the war, and about the time Charlie Chaplin conducted the band in 1915. In the digitized collection there are 85 books in the chronology, some 100 pages in length, plus three that include scans of souvenirs and programs.

View the Sousa Press Books Archive