Early Shrine Sheet Music

(This article originally appeared in the Oct. 1997 Scottish Rite Journal and is reprinted with permission as a Short Talk Bulletin).

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), the man called "March King," was proud to be a native-born American. And make no mistake that he was also proud to be a Mason.

Sousa's Masonic affiliations aren't common knowledge, but he entered Masonry at age 26 and was a Master Mason for 51 years. A summary of his Masonic career is seen at the end of this article. Three of his best known marches have Masonic origins: "The Crusader" (1888), "The Thunderer" (1889), and "Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" ( 1923).

He came about petitioning the Craft naturally since his father was a Mason. Also, when Sousa became leader of the United States Marine Band in 1880, he learned the importance of military bandmasters being Masons and took the first steps shortly thereafter.

It is interesting that quite a few members of Sousa's professional civilian band, formed after he left the Marine Corps, were Masons. The percentage increased when Sousa became a Shriner in 1922, and toward the end of his career, nearly half the bandsmen themselves were Shriners. Shrine organizations around the country sponsored many Sousa Band Concerts in the late 1920s.

Masons in America have traditionally been outspoken on the subject of patriotism, and it could be said that Brother Sousa led one section of that parade. As a matter of record, he probably expressed his patriotism in a more dramatic way than any other composer of any era of any country.

Sousa loved his native country with a passion seldom demonstrated more eloquently, and he took every opportunity to let the world know. If asked about his occupation, he was quick to answer, "I'm a salesman of Americanism." No shirtsleeve patriot, this Sousa.

He was born in our nation's capital in a section then known as the "Navy Yard." As he put it, his home was "in the shadow of the Capitol dome," and as he witnessed the sights and sounds of Civil War activities, his love of America grew. He enlisted as an apprentice in the U.S. Marine Band at age 13 and eventually spent a total of 19 years in military service.

Some of Sousa's marches have strictly military titles, but his colors show through clearly in his patriotic titles. Consider these examples: "America First," "Hail to the Spirit of Liberty," "The Invincible Eagle," "The Messiah of Nations," "Liberty Bell" and, of course, his most famous composition, "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

If we take a look at other titles, we'll see that he was actually telling the story of his beloved country through his music: "The American Maid," "The National Game," "Boy Scouts of America," "Washington Post," "High School Cadets," "New York Hippodrome," "Northern Pines," "Dwellers of the Western World," "Fairest of the Fair," and "Daughters of Texas." The list goes on and on.

His patriotism was manifested in his music, but, more importantly, he lived it in his everyday life. With his professional band, which was considered the best in the world, he traveled widely to show other nations what America had to offer in the way of artistic development. When he organized his band in 1892, many of the musicians were of foreign extraction. When he died 39 years later, the band was 100 percent American.

While making tours of his own country, patriotism was always part of the Sousa showcase. He made the most of every situation, to be sure. During the Spanish-American war, for instance, he developed an extravaganza called "The Trooping of the Colors" which brought audiences to an unprecedented patriotic height. At that time he volunteered to leave the highly lucrative band business to be a United States Army bandmaster, but he was stricken with bouts of typhoid fever and pneumonia, and he did not recover until after the war.

His patriotism was even more evident during World War I. At age 62, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy (at the symbolic salary of $1/ month) to train Navy bandsmen at Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago. While there, he took a huge "jackie" band (a band made up of recruits) on a tour to raise money for war causes. When regrouping the Sousa Band after the war, he usually wore his lieutenant commander's uniform at concerts.

At every Sousa concert (some 15,000 of them!), one would find a taste of patriotism. This was no accident, because he was a patriot at heart, thus accounting for the inspirations which led to many of his most popular compositions. The most famous of all his marches is, or course, "The Stars and Stripes Forever." It is our official national march and is considered by many to be the finest march ever written. The title says exactly what Sousa meant it to say. One can only imagine the lecture received by his publisher, who suggested that "Forever" be removed from the title!

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" is now part of our national heritage, and Sousa did his utmost to make it that way. Members of his band caught the spirit and carried the tradition through one more generation after Sousa passed on. This author has personally interviewed over 50 former Sousa bandsmen, and when asked if they ever tired of playing "Stars," the consensus was that this would have been unthinkable.

Sousa never tired of it either. Late in his career, he was asked what single piece of music he would choose to hear just before he died. His answer? "The Stars and Stripes Forever." His reason? "I would meet my Maker face to face with the inspiration that grows from its melodies and the patriotism that gives it meaning." This year, incidentally, marks the centennial of the march's first performance in Philadelphia on May 14, 1897.

A patriotic thought could bring tears to Sousa's eyes, and his inspired melodies have brought tears of joy to the eyes of millions of his fellow Americans. Stories of his personal acts of patriotism could easily fill a book. When we speak of him as one of our Masonic Brothers, we can all stand a little taller.

John Philip Sousa's Masonic History:

  • 15 July 1881, Initiated, Hiram Lodge No. 10, Washington, DC (never transferred);
  • 2 September 1881, Passed, Hiram Lodge;
  • 10 November 1881, Raised, Hiram Lodge;
  • 16 September 1886, Received Capitular Degrees and exalted in Eureka Chapter No. 4 (later Eureka Naval Chapter);
  • 3 December 1886, Received Order of Red Cross, Malta, and Temple
  • 10 December 1886, Knighted in Columbia Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, Washington, DC;
  • 21 April 1922, Initiated in A.A.O.N.M.S., Almas Temple, Washington, D.C., named honorary leader of Almas Temple Band;
  • 10 March 1932, a Masonic memorial service was held at the grave site in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC, after Sousa's death. This band has performed several ceremonies at Sousa's grave.


Perhaps more than anyone else, John Philip Sousa is responsible for bringing the United States Marine Band to an unprecedented level of excellence: a standard upheld by every Marine Band Director since. Sousa grew up with the Marine Band, and his intimate knowledge of the band coupled with his great ability provided the ideal medium to showcase the marches which would earn him the title, the "March King."

Sousa was born November 6, 1854, at 636 G Street, SE, Washington, DC, near the Marine Barracks where his father, Antonio, was a musician in the Marine Band. He received his grammar school education in Washington and for several of his school years enrolled in a private conservatory of music operated by John Esputa, Jr. There he studied piano and most of the orchestral instruments, but his first love was the violin. John Philip Sousa gained great proficiency on the violin, and at the age of 13 he was almost persuaded to join a circus band. However, his father intervened and enlisted him as an apprentice musician in the Marine Band. Except for a period of six months, Sousa remained in the band until he was 20.

In addition to his musical training in the Marine Band, he studied music theory and composition with George Felix Benkert, a noted Washington orchestra leader and teacher.

After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Sousa remained in Washington for a time, conducting and playing the violin. He toured with several traveling theater orchestras and moved, in 1876, to Philadelphia. There he worked as a composer, arranger, and proofreader for publishing houses. Sousa was fascinated by the operetta form and toured with a company producing the musical Our Flirtation, for which he wrote the incidental music and the march. While on tour in St. Louis, he received a telegram offering him the leadership of the Marine Band in Washington. He accepted and reported for duty on October 1, 1880, becoming the bandís 17th Leader.

The Marine Band was Sousaís first experience conducting a military band, and he approached musical matters unlike most of his predecessors. He replaced much of the music in the library with symphonic transcriptions and changed the instrumentation to meet his needs. Rehearsals became exceptionally strict, and he shaped his musicians into the countryís premier military band. Marine Band concerts began to attract discriminating audiences, and the bandís reputation began to spread widely.

Sousa first received acclaim in military band circles with the writing of his march "The Gladiator" in 1886. From that time on he received ever-increasing attention and respect as a composer. In 1888, he wrote "Semper Fidelis." Dedicated to "the officers and men of the Marine Corps," it is traditionally known as the "official" march of the Marine Corps.

In 1889, Sousa wrote "The Washington Post" march to promote an essay contest sponsored by the newspaper; the march was soon adapted and identified with the new dance called the two-step. "The Washington Post" became the most popular tune in America and Europe, and critical response was overwhelming. A British band journalist remarked that since Johann Strauss, Jr. was called the "Waltz King" that American bandmaster Sousa should be called the "March King." With this, Sousaís regal title was coined and has remained ever since.

Under Sousa the Marine Band also made its first recordings. The phonograph was a relatively new invention, and the Columbia Phonograph Company sought a military band to record. The Marine Band was chosen, and 60 cylinders were released in the fall of 1890. Within two years, well over 200 cylinders were released, placing Sousaís marches among the first and most popular pieces ever recorded.

The immense popularity of the Marine Band made Sousa anxious to take his Marine Band on tour, and in 1891 President Harrison gave official sanction for the first Marine Band tour, a tradition which has continued annually since that time, except in times of war.

After the second Marine Band tour in 1892, Sousa was approached by his manager, David Blakely, to organize his own civilian concert band, and on July 30 of that year, John Philip Sousa retired as Director of the Marine Band. At his farewell concert on the White House lawn Sousa was presented with a handsome engraved baton by members of the Marine Band as a token of their respect and esteem. The Sousa baton is now traditionally passed to the new Director of the Marine Band during change of command ceremonies.

With his own band, Sousaís fame and reputation would grow to even greater heights. In his 12 years as Leader of the Marine Band, he served under five Presidents, and the experience he gained with the Marine Band would be applied to his civilian band for the next 39 years.

Sousaís last appearance before the Marine Band was on the occasion of the Carabao Wallow of 1932 in Washington. Sousa, as a distinguished guest, rose from the speakerís table, took the baton from Captain Taylor Branson, the bandís Director, and led the band through the stirring strains of "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

John Philip Sousa died on March 6, 1932, at Reading, PA, where he was scheduled to conduct the Ringgold Band the following day. His body was brought to his native Washington to lie in state in the Band Hall at Marine Barracks. Four days later, two companies of Marines and Sailors, the Marine Band, and honorary pall-bearers from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps headed the funeral cortege from the Marine Barracks to Congressional Cemetery.

His music was not the only memorial to John Philip Sousa. In his native city on December 9, 1939, the new Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge across the Anacostia River was dedicated to the memory of the great American composer and bandmaster. More recently, Sousa was enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1976.

In a fitting tribute to its 17th Leader, in 1974 the Marine Band rededicated its historic band hall at Marine Barracks as "John Philip Sousa Band Hall." The bell from the S.S. John Philip Sousa, a World War II Liberty ship, is there.

Perhaps the most significant tribute to Sousaís influence on American culture, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was designated as the national march of the United States on December 10, 1987. A White House memorandum states the march has become "an integral part of the celebration of American life."

Shrine Sheet Music.jpg (21502 bytes)

Here is an early piece of Shrine sheet music titled "I'm in Love with a Mystic Shriner".  It pictures the Band Leader and the Shrine Band who performed the score.  Sheet music pieces like this are sought after to frame as gifts.

shrinersmarchsheetmusic1.jpg (61644 bytes)

Here is another piece of Shrine Sheet Music called "Shriners' March" and is dated 1912-13.  It was composed by Nellie Melise Bour and arranged by Emmeline Schultz.  Published by Meyer Music Parlors of Houston, Texas.




Museum Home Page     Phoenixmasonry Home Page

Copyrighted © 1999 - 2015   Phoenixmasonry, Inc.      The Fine Print