Sousa leaves the Marine Band

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Friday, July 31, 2020

On today's date in 1892, the Washington Post's headlines included one that read: "Sousa's Farewell Toot—Last Appearance of the Marine Band Under His Baton—Admirers of the Popular Conductor Crowd Forward for a Farewell Shake of the Hand at the Close of His Final Concert on the White House Grounds."

In his 12-year tenure with the Marine Band, Sousa had made it one of the finest touring ensembles in his day. Sousa was famous coast-to-coast—but not all that well paid. While on tour early in 1892, Sousa had been approached in Chicago by an impresario with a business proposition: "Why not form your OWN band, Mr. Sousa? I can offer you four times your Marine Corps salary, plus a percentage of the new band's profits." Sousa thought it over, and upon his return to Washington, D.C., submitted his resignation effective July 31, 1892. His final concerts with the Marine Band took place on July 29th and 30th that year.

The first was given indoors at the National Theater, with then-Vice President Levi P. Morton in attendance. The following day, on the White House grounds, an open-air concert attracted a huge audience that included President Benjamin Harrison. With that, one important chapter of Sousa's musical career had ended, but another was just beginning. Over the next four decades, the Sousa Band would go on to become famous worldwide.