A different kind of march madness

He was known as “The March King.”   John Philip Sousa wrote 136 marches including the National March of America, “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, the U.S. Marine Corps, “Semper Fidelis” and “The Washington Post”.  He also wrote at least six marches for various schools including Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Marquette, and Kansas State’s, “The Kansas Wildcats March.”

It started in October 1928. Sousa’s Band was performing a concert in Manhattan, Kansas. The famous composer was presented with a bound petition asking that he compose a march for the Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. Which is now known as Kansas State University.

K-Sate Marching Band
Courtesy: @KSU_Foundation

The “Kansas Wildcats” was completed and dedicated in 1930.

The march that was dedicated was not the one written in response to the petition.

A copyist’s manuscript of “The Wildcats of Kansas March,” show the original title, “The Sword of San Jacinto,” was crossed out and Kansas Wildcats was written above it. 

The Pride of Wildcat Land
Courtesy: @KStatePride

John Philip Sousa was born on November 6, 1854, in Washington D.C. He was the third of ten children.  He learned to play piano, flute, violin, and several other brass instruments.  He was also a singer who was said to have perfect pitch.

John Philip Sousa
Courtesy: Library of Congress

His father played trombone in the United States Marine Band, and he brought Sousa in to serve as an apprentice, in the hopes of keeping his son from joining a circus band. The young Sousa played with the Marines from 1868 to 1875. 

He spent the next five years performing and learning to conduct. 

John Philip Sousa
Courtesy: Library of Congress

On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis. The marriage gave life to three children.

He returned to the US Marine Band in 1880, where he served as the director for 12 years.

Sousa with the U.S. Marine Band, 1892
Courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps

In 1880, Sousa focused on his composing music and conducting.  He also helped create a large brass instrument called the sousaphone.

Sousa would lead “The President’s Own” band under five presidents from Hayes to Harrison. 

Sousa in the U.S. Navy Reserve
Courtesy: Library of Congress

During World War I he served as lieutenant commander of the Naval Reserve Band, he was later promoted to lieutenant commander.

John Philip Sousa
Courtesy: Library of Congress

The Sousa Band toured from 1892 to 1931 and performed at nearly 15,000 concerts,

Sousa died of heart failure at the age of 77, leaving his last march “Library of Congress” unfinished.  Sousa is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC. 

His home in New York, Wild Bank, is a National Historic Landmark. But it is a private home and not open to the public.

Sousa’s Home, Wild Bank
Courtesy: Daniel Case

The march is still a football tradition at the Bill Snyder stadium and over the years, “The Wildcats of Kansas March” has also been performed outside of Kansas State events to showcase the works of Sousa.

KSU Marching Band Courtesy: David Reber
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