The hit parade: the year that John Philip Sousa wrote for the Washington Post

Posted 11/10/17

The tune is instantly recognizable. I associate it with patriotic parades, black-and-white newsreels and pickup trucks covered in bunting that cruise around courthouse squares blaring slogans like …

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The hit parade: the year that John Philip Sousa wrote for the Washington Post

Posted

The tune is instantly recognizable. I associate it with patriotic parades, black-and-white newsreels and pickup trucks covered in bunting that cruise around courthouse squares blaring slogans like “Vote Joe Schmoe for Mayor.”

Though I am familiar with the song, I was surprised when the name, “The Washington Post March,” appeared on my Spotify playlist last week.

“Why would a march be named after the Post?” I wondered.

Post columnist John Kelly shared the story behind the song in June 2014, the 125th anniversary of its first public performance.

“The Washington Post March” was composed by U.S. Marine Band director John Philip Sousa in 1889 at the request of Post owners Frank Hatton and Beriah Wilkins.

It was performed publicly for the first time on the grounds of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where approximately 25,000 people gathered for the inaugural awards ceremony for the Post’s Amateur Authors essay contest.

The honorees were 11 schoolchildren, and eight of the 11 were women.

“That means that the young mothers of this land, those who are going to rock the cradle, are ahead in intellectuality,” said Willis B. Hawkins, president of the Washington Post Amateur Authors Association.

Kelly notes that one of the winners, Mary Charlotte Priest, was one of the first women admitted to Columbian College, which was later renamed George Washington University.

After earning her master’s degree, she became a teacher at the National Park Seminary, a girls school in Forest Glen, Maryland, and later assumed the role of assistant dean.

In 1952, the year that a movie based on Sousa’s life was released, the Post tracked down the only surviving award winner.

Anna Roach, a first-grader at the time of the contest, was working in women’s alterations at Lansburgh’s department store when she was approached by the Post.

Her medal was long gone by that time. “Her husband wore it for years on his watch chain before losing it,” according to Kelly’s article.

“The Washington Post March” was “enthusiastically received” and was soon associated with a popular new dance known as the two-step, according to an article on the Marines website.

“The two-step gradually replaced the waltz as a popular dance, and variations of the basic two-step insured the march’s popularity all through the 1890s and into the twentieth century. Sousa’s march became identified with the two-step, and it was as famous abroad as it was in the United States. In some European countries, all two-steps were called ‘Washington posts,’” the article states.

Sousa, dubbed “The March King,” composed 137 marches throughout his career, including “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “Semper Fidelis” and “The Thunderer.”

With the exception of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” composed several years after he was discharged from the Marine Corps, most of Sousa’s most well-known works were written while he was the leader of the Marine Band.

For his effort, he typically received $35 — $25 for a piano arrangement, $5 for a band arrangement and $5 for an orchestra arrangement, according to the article from the Marines website.

Sousa died in 1932 at age 77.

His posthumous honors are many. The Liberty Ship SS John Philip Sousa was launched on July 4, 1943. A bell from the ship is used by the Marine Band. In 1987, Congress selected “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as the National March of the United States, and in 1990, a star bearing Sousa’s name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.