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Celebrating 50 Years of Women in Marine Band

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Brian Rust

Celebrating 50 Years of Women in the Marine Band

2 Mar 2023 | Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali United States Marine Band

On March 7, 1973, at age 21, French horn player Ruth Johnson successfully won a Marine Band audition and became the first female to enlist in “The President’s Own.” Only two weeks earlier, the college senior had written a letter to Lt. Col. Dale Harpham asking him to seriously consider offering her an audition. She assured him that she could handle “any and all of the duties required.”

In honor of 50 years of women in the Marine Band, “The President’s Own” will perform two concerts this weekend focusing on the work of female composers and arrangers, and highlighting some of the band’s many talented female musicians. The free concerts will take place at 2 p.m., Saturday, March 4 at the Capital Turnaround in Washington, D.C., and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 5 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va.

Marine Chamber Orchestra violinist Master Sgt. Erika Sato has coordinated both concerts. The year 2023 marks Sato's 20th year in the Marine Band, and when she realized it also marked the historic milestone for Marine Band women, she said she “wanted to be part of celebrating this moment and creating a special program around it.”

“Many of the pieces programmed are exquisite discoveries to me,” Sato said. “As a violinist, I’m excited to hear our string players perform Errolyn Wallen’s and Reena Esmail’s works. Wallen’s Concerto Grosso is a thrilling, aurally cinematic ride through different landscapes, with breakout rock-star moments for the soloists. Esmail’s Charukeshi gorgeously spins out longing and yearning, perfectly suiting violinist Staff Sgt. Sara Matayoshi’s elegant style. Master Sgt. Sara Sheffield, the band’s first female vocalist and concert moderator, will be singing Clara Schumann’s divine ‘Liebst du um Schönheit.’ It is breathtaking and now a new favorite of mine.”

Sato explained that all of the repertoire on the programs were suggested and submitted by members of the Marine Band, including Valerie Coleman’s Portraits of Langston, Mabel Wayne’s “It Happened in Monterey,” Dame Ethel Smyth’s lush Allegro molto from Quintet in E, Opus 1—reimagined for woodwind quintet, and more. She is especially proud to include the Richard Wagner’s powerful “Ride of the Valkyries” arranged by French horn player Staff Sgt. Rebecca Sieff.

“I knew I had to honor the fact that the first female in ‘The President’s Own’ was a horn player by getting as many female brass players on stage as possible,” Sieff said. “I chose to arrange ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in particular because it depicts women warriors in the most epic way, and my hope is that this arrangement proves that our world-class musicians can make even a chamber ensemble sound like a full-sized orchestra.”

Following a rehearsal of the Wagner piece, trumpet player Master Gunnery Sgt. Susan Rider reflected on the milestone: “It has been a meaningful experience to see the presence of women in the Marine Band continue to grow since becoming a member of the trumpet section in 1997. Women have made a great and significant impact on this organization, and it will be exciting to see how this flourishes into the future.”

French horn player Gunnery Sgt. Cecilia Kozlowski added: “This concert is going to be amazing because we’re carrying on the tradition of the first women in the Marine Band—they were strong and courageous.”

Following the concerts, patrons can get to know women of the Marine Band as part of the post-concert meet and greet in the lobby. During both performances, audiences will experience new, yet rich and beautiful voices, while also celebrating the contributions of women in the music field and honoring the legacy of those who have served in “The President’s Own” for the past 50 years.

Complete Program and Notes

Directions to Capital Turnaround

Directions to National Museum of the Marine Corps