STILL GOING STRONG AFTER 200 YEARS
From an article by Sarah Booth Conroy in the Washington Post, on July 6, 1999
On July 11, 1798, President John Adams signed the congressional act that created the U.S. Marine Band, which has marched through history while making history of its own ever since that time. It played its first Washington public concert from “a hill overlooking the Potomac River” in August 1800, three months before the government moved to that city. It then consisted of a drum major, a fife major and 32 drums and fifes.
Today, its 143 musicians include 44 women and membership in the band is highly prized, as demonstrated by 70 tuba players recently auditioning for a single place. Most members serve for 20 years or more. Its current and 26th director is LCOL Timothy W. Foley, a clarinetist with 30 years service who took over the baton at the Marine Barracks in 1996. That locale has been the band’s headquarters since 1801.
Its most famous director was John Philip Sousa, now known as the march king, who was the son of a Marine Band trombonist. Sousa joined the band as a 13-year-old apprentice and was its director from 1880-1892. He then served as its prime composer for the next 40 years until his death in 1932.
Thomas Jefferson, himself an accomplished violinist, called the band “The President’s Own” when the musicians played for his inauguration.
The Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief” the first time in honor of President John Quincy Adams at a Fourth of July groundbreaking for the C&O Canal. However, the music didn’t become the official herald until several years later. It was supposedly first used for that purpose when James Polk was president because of his height. He was so short that most people in attendance didn’t notice when he entered a crowded room. It then became the custom.
The band celebrated its 200th birthday on July 11th, 1999, with the opening of a visual exhibit of the foregoing and other interesting history, at the White House Visitor Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. This rare collection of photographs, tapes, posters and captions remained on display there through September 1999.