John Philip Sousa
The ‘March King,’ Baseball, and the Fourth of July
By Ken Zurski
On July 4, 1900, at the newly opened World’s Fair in Paris, France, after another rousing rendition of “The Stars and Striped Forever,”conductor John Philip Sousa and several of his band members donned a baggy pair of trousers, hat and glove and went out to play an exhibition game of baseball.
Sousa. known as the “March King” for his inspiring and mostly patriotic musical marches, was in Europe for an extended concert tour, the first ever for a band its size.
But like music, Sousa also had a passion for baseball.
So he gathered up the band and formed a team.
Sousa was said to be an excellent pitcher and started most games on the mound. He threw competitively until his skills waned with age. “If baseball has a drawback,” he once wrote, “it is the early time of life at which the player is forced to retire and give way to younger blood.”
Back home in America, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis took advantage of Sousa’s love for baseball and asked him to compose a march for the 50th anniversary of the National League. In 1925, Sousa delivered with the composition called “The National Game.” He appropriately dedicated the piece to the sport.
However, despite the connection to Sousa, even today the song is not well known or as widely played as other tunes associated with baseball, like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
In fact, sadly Sousa’s baseball march is mostly forgotten.
But it was not a song, but a day, July 4, 1900, that Sousa remembers the most.
That day in Paris, Sousa and the band’s team played “a group of nines” against the American Guards.
“What could have been more appropriate for two American organizations in a foreign land to do on the glorious Fourth?” Sousa proudly proclaimed.
‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ Came Quickly
By Ken Zurski
Bandleader and composer John Philip Sousa was never one to hurry a piece of music. A tune would come to him and he would play it over and over in his mind until it was just right – or as he called it, the “brain band” would perform it in his head before a single note was ever recorded.
That’s exactly what happened in 1896, while Sousa was returning from a trip overseas.
Sousa was forced to cut the trip short after receiving news that his longtime manager had passed away. Pacing the deck of the steamer Teutonic, Sousa heard a tune in his head and the “brain band” took over.
“Day after day,” he said,” as I walked, it persisted in crashing into my very soul.”
When Sousa returned to America, he set it to paper: “It was a genuine inspiration, irresistible, complete, and definite and I could not rest until I had finished the composition.”
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” quickly became Sousa’s most popular march.