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2024 March Mania Champion Graphic

Photo by Staff Sgt. Chase Baran

"Cyrus the Great" bests "Semper Fidelis" in March Mania clash of kings

3 Apr 2024 | Staff Sgt. Tucker Broadbooks United States Marine Band

In a surprising final outcome for Sousa’s March Mania 2024, Karl King’s “Cyrus the Great” conquered John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis,” the official march of the Marine Corps, by a score of 7,002 to 4,775. The United States Marine Band commemorated the King of Persia’s victory over the March King with a live performance of the piece on March 29, 2024, at John Philip Sousa Band Hall in Washington, D.C.

Now in its 11th year, ”Sousa’s March Mania” pits 32 marches from a variety of composers and time periods against one another, crowning one piece champion in a live performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

“Cyrus the Great” faced tough competition during its run to the championship. In the opening rounds, it took down Sousa’s “The Pathfinder of Panama” and “Jack Tar” in back-to-back battles with the March King himself. The path to victory didn’t get any easier in the Enlisted Eight or Fidelis Four, where “Cyrus the Great” won two narrow victories over a pair of John Williams fan favorites from a galaxy far, far away.

After dispatching “March of the Resistance” and “The Imperial March,” “Cyrus the Great” faced perennial powerhouse “Semper Fidelis” in the March Mania Championship. Many in the Marine Band considered Karl L. King’s work to be an underdog against one of the March King’s most iconic works, but “Cyrus the Great” proved itself once and for all with a resounding victory.

The triumph of “Cyrus the Great” shocked many, who believed that “Semper Fidelis” was destined to win the March Mania title in 2024. The official march of the Marine Corps has seen continual success but has never won the tournament despite appearing in all 11 iterations of the competition.

“I’m simply stunned,” said Master Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali, Marine Band Communication Strategy Chief. “I thought that this was the year ‘Semper Fidelis’ would finally make it through and pull off the victory. ‘Cyrus the Great’ is a fun march, but John Philip Sousa is the only true March King in my book.”

Often overlooked in favor of John Philip Sousa, Karl L. King got his start playing baritone in circus bands during the early 20th century before becoming a composer. He was a prolific writer over the course of his career, composing more than 188 marches and circus “screamers.” King is considered to have done for the circus march what John Philip Sousa did for the patriotic march. Here’s what the Marine Band archives have to say about his composition “Cyrus the Great:”

King composed the march “Cyrus the Great” (subtitled Persian March) as a tribute to his friend “Cy” Tremain. However, he likely drew musical inspiration from the titular emperor, who founded the Persian Empire around 550 B.C.E. The march begins with an introductory brass fanfare leading into a descending low brass theme that recurs throughout the first strain. King made the somewhat less common choice to use the low brass section as the lead melodic voice for a muscular second strain. The trio moves to a celebratory major tonality, with each of its three iterations separated by a traditionally low brass-heavy breakup strain.

King may be seen as an overlooked composer, but his music earned the respect of March Mania voters on a championship run filled with only the toughest of competition.

Fans of “Semper Fidelis” and other defeated marches voiced their opinions on the championship match:

Lonnie Wescott said, “I had hoped this would be the year for ‘Semper Fidelis!’”

Manuel Arambula exclaimed, “’Semper Fidelis’ is one of the greatest marches ever written. Sousa considered it the greatest march he ever wrote. It deserves every recognition.”

Fans of marches vanquished earlier in the tournament weren’t silent, either:  user ItsJustJJ commented “Justice for ‘Boys of the Old Brigade!’” while Ralph Brody, Jr. said, “I’m still carrying the banner for ‘Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.’”

Opponents of “Cyrus the Great” will rejoice in the knowledge that as reigning champion, it will now be retired from future March Mania competitions.

Other commenters embraced Karl L. King’s victory:

Joe Fudale said, “This was a fan favorite at Westlake High School in Westlake, Ohio! Thanks for putting together such an awesome contest!” Jarrod Deering commented, “Honestly did not expect Cyrus! Great march though!!.”

Your bracket may have been busted early, but we’re sure that it was still worth it to keep voting all the way to the end for your second (or third) choice! It shouldn’t come as a shock that the march you picked might not have become the champion. A one in 32 chance of picking the winner isn’t that high. And a perfect bracket? Forget about it.

If you were one of the all-knowing honorary March Kings who picked “Cyrus the Great” as their winner on day one, congratulations! Like the Marines, you’re part of the few and the proud. Wear your crown with pride!

This year, the Marine Band reached over 250,000 students at more than 2,000 schools across the U.S. who signed up to participate in the competition. To all our new and returning voters, thank you for making this year the best March Mania yet! We can’t wait to experience more of your enthusiasm and support for this interactive educational program in 2025!

Read more about “Sousa's March Mania”