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When John Philip Sousa marched Into Grand Forks


‘Sousa is coming to town,’ were the magical words heard in Grand Forks back in the year 1899, when the “March King” came to the Metropolitan Theater, most fittingly, in the month of March.

John Philip Sousa was famous internationally for the “stirring rhythm” and “irresistible” musicality of his greatest compositions – The Stars and Stripes Forever, The Washington Post March, and El Capitan. He came to North Dakota as part of his “fourth grand transcontinental tour,” visiting thirty states in just over ten weeks.

Publicity in the Herald newspaper, on this date, was feverish in its pitch - “The March King’s Coming!;” “SOUSA and his BAND!,” imploring “every lover of music” to get a ticket for this premiere concert event. Tickets for the prime seats sold for $1.50, while the balcony-seats sold for a dollar or fifty cents. It was a one-night-only performance, set for 8:15 on the 28th.

John Philip Sousa (1856-1932) and his “Sousa marches” were household words by the 1890s because the composer mystically matched the musical heartbeats of Americans with the martial drumbeats of his tunes. He was distinctive as a composer, conductor and patriot.

The famous band arrived in Grand Forks at 5:30 p.m. by special train on the Northern Pacific, and the company of fifty musicians was whisked several blocks to the theater in a flurry of bustle and activity. The night of the Sousa concert was enchanted – enough, wrote the paper, to “lift a musically inclined soul almost from earth to heaven.”

Conductor Sousa, impeccable in timing and precision, led his band through lofty heights of piccolo solos with verve, and into the vale of the stirring military beat that made the pulse go ever-faster. It was like summer fireworks to hear the trumpets sparkle in “Semper Fidelis;” and like poetry to hear “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight.” Sousa infused his audience with impulsive melodies that replayed in the brain; and the 1,200 concert-goers left the music hall filled with harmonious acclaim for his lilting strains.

Afterwards, Judge Guy Corliss said: “It was magnificent.” Professor Hall said it was “music with a capital ‘M’.” Mr. Tracy Bangs marveled at how simple air, “passing through wooden and metal tubes” could be fashioned into such beauty.

John Philip Sousa, the “March King” bandmaster and his military band, had trooped into Grand Forks and captured the hearts of music-lovers.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Sousa Is Coming,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 23, 1899, p. 5.

“Sousa And His Famous Band,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, January 29, 1899, p. 3.

“The Theatre,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 28, 1899, p. 6.

“The Theatre,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 29, 1899, p. 3.

“After The Concert,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 29, 1899, p. 8.

“The Following Warrenites,” Warren [MN] Sheaf, March 30, 1899, p. 5.

“Sousa And His Band Will Arrive,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 28, 1899, p. 5.

Advertisement, Metropolitan Theatre, Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 23, 1899; March 26, 1899, p. 3.

“Wherever Music Is Heard,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 19, 1899, p. 3.

“Sousa And His Peerless Concert Band,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 25, 1899, p. 3.

“John Philip Sousa,” "http://www.marineband.marines.mil/About/OurHistory/JohnPhilipSousa.aspx" www.marineband.marines.mil/About /OurHistory/JohnPhilipSousa.aspx , accessed on February 24, 2015.