As we all wrap-up our days of friends, family, food and fireworks Christmas is likely not on your mind. It certainly wasn’t on mine. I just wanted to get a nice cool drink and some aloe. I did flip on the tv and caught a little coverage of the National Symphony performance on the Mall in Washington. They were wrapping up the show with a performance of Stars and Stripes Forever, the most well-recognized of all the Sousa marches. The song was officially named our National March by Congress. I like Sousa but there are two things that always drive me nuts when it is performed. First the way people like to clap, but can never keep a steady tempo and second, when the sing lyrics to the march. The second was in full effect and lead me to search to find out where those words originated and why they were added to the song. I was surprised to find a Christmas connection to Stars and Stripes Forever!
John Philip Sousa was in Europe on holiday with his wife in 1896. He received word that his long-time friend and manager of the Sousa Band, David Bakely, had died suddenly. Sousa boarded a boat to rush home to handle the affairs of the band. It was on the ship back to the States that Sousa imagined the entire musical composition. It was on Christmas Day! He created it all in his mind and committed it to memory, not putting it on paper until he arrived in port.
The inspiration that came to Sousa on that Christmas Day in 1896 is celebrated by all Americans each July Fourth. How thankful we all are for this amazing Christmas gift from the March King! (oh and fyi- it was Sousa himself who penned the lyrics)
Take a listen to an early 1911 recording by Sousa’s Band.