John Philip Sousa

The Washington Post Celebrates Young Authors With One of the Most Famous Pieces of Music in History

Sousa, John Philip. Washington Post. Harry Coleman, Philadelphia, 1889. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/sousa.200028287/.

On a beautiful June day in 1889, 25,000 people covered nearly six acres of the Smithsonian grounds for a glorious awards ceremony. 22,000 of them were children, who ranged in age from toddlers to high schoolers, and were the first members of the new Washington Post Amateur Authors’ Association, which was started by the newspaper to encourage students to excel in English composition. The incentive to join the Association? The opportunity to enter the essay writing competition for the chance to win a stunning solid gold medal. 

Although it might seem like these handsome gold medals would be the main highlight of this event, the jewelry actually wasn’t the only gem to come out of the ceremony…Those present at the Smithsonian grounds that day were also witnesses to the premiere of what would become one of the most famous pieces of music in history: "The Washington Post March."

The March King Steps Down

Sousa and the Marine Band in 1891, the year before Sousa left (Photo Source: Library of Congress)

In the summer of 1892 Washingtonians had their hearts broken. After 12 years of conducting the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, D.C. native and beloved conductor, submitted his resignation to the U.S. Marine Corps. He was leaving for Chicago, where he had accepted an offer to serve as musical director of a new military-style civilian band. The public of DC would not let their beloved Sousa go easy, and arranged a farewell testimonial concert where he could exhibit his grand conducting skills for an eager audience one more time. This concert served as the first of two farewell concerts for Sousa with the second taking place the very next day on the White House Lawn.