“The Stars and Stripes Forever” was first performed at Willow Grove Park in southeastern Pennsylvania on May 14, 1897. It’s interesting how some things are borne of the most unlikely combinations of circumstances. John Philip Sousa–in his autobiography, Marching Along–recounts the tale of how “The Stars and Stripes Forever” came to be. It seems that it was Christmas Day when he and his wife were on an ocean liner returning home from a vacation in Europe. He had just learned that the manager of his band, David Blakely had passed away.
A Most Curious Conception
Obviously not much taken in with any notion of making the Yuletide gay, Sousa began to think. As most great composers’ thoughts often do, his turned to a march–a new march that kept playing in his head until arriving back in the United States. Upon arriving home, he committed what was in his head to paper. The rest, as they say, is history.
A “Star” is Born
As noted, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was first performed at Willow Grove Park in southeastern Pennsylvania on May 14, 1897. It earned instant and rousing praise from those fortunate enough to hear it. As its popularity grew and evoked ever-increasingly patriotic thoughts within him, Sousa even penned a lengthy and patriotically-charged set of lyrics that fit virtually note-to-syllable with the music. Moreover, whose heart wouldn’t swell with national pride upon hearing lyrics like these set to such a lively and celebratory backdrop?
Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever
In the years that followed, even more songs would find a home within the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever, both patriotic and otherwise, much like the great church hymns that emerged over the centuries following the Reformation. While not exactly hymn-like, probably the most widely recognized rendering of the trio of Stars and Stripes was its endearing parody “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends” that regularly ended the wildly popular, “Sing Along with Mitch” television program.
It’s a Little Known Fact…
Carnegie hall was one venue where The Stars and Stripes Forever found a near-permanent home. It premiered there almost exactly a year after being published – January 28, 1898. The blog at Carnegie Hall.org lists some interesting facts about the piece as it relates to its own history at New York’s premier venue. For example, when you add up the number of times The Stars and Stripes Forever has been performed there, it comes out to just about once a year since its premiere. And for more fun “Stars & Stripes” facts, check out an impressively detailed list here. And here’s an educational performance….