“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the nation’s oldest continuously active professional music ensemble, makes a rare visit to Chicago when it performs Oct. 24 in an SCP Special Concert. The performance is part of a series of events sponsored by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association to commemorate the centennial of the World War I Armistice. Tickets are free (with a four-ticket limit per request) and become available Sept. 24 at cso.org or at the box office, 220 S. Michigan.
Happy 220th birthday: The band was established by act of Congress, signed by President John Adams, the nation’s second chief executive, on July 11, 1798.
First performances: The Marine Band gave its first public concert in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 21, 1800, and made its White House debut on New Year’s Day 1801 at a reception hosted by President John Adams and wife Abigail. Since then, the Marine Band has performed for every chief executive at official functions at the White House and for other state occasions.
The Jeffersonian touch: During his administration, Thomas Jefferson gave the Marine Band the title “The President’s Own,” but as group’s online biography notes: “In a larger sense, it is the band of the American people. As our nation’s oldest, continuously active musical organization, the Marine Band has witnessed more of our American history than any other musical ensemble. Whether serenading Adams or Jefferson, accompanying Lincoln to Gettysburg, or performing here at the White House, the Marine Band has become a national institution and a national treasure.”
Home of “The March King”: In 1880, the Marine Band’s most well-known leader, John Philip Sousa, took command of the group. A composer as well as a conductor, Sousa (1954-1932) wrote many of the most famous pieces in the military march genre, including “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Washington Post.” For his mastery of the style, Sousa became known worldwide as “The March King.” Of the Marine Band, Sousa once declared, “It is virtually the National Band and the band that should be as great among bands as America is among nations.”
First president on the podium: Fulfilling a lifelong ambition, George W. Bush became the first chief executive to conduct “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. His feat occurred April 26, 2008, at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, when he led the band in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” In his remarks, Bush said, “One thing we all share, whether we’re native citizens or new citizens, is a tremendous appreciation for our people in uniform, an appreciation symbolized by the United States Marine Band, which is celebrating its 210th anniversary this year. I love the band, and so I’m going to say my farewell to you by doing something I’ve always wanted to do, and I do it in the spirit of our shared love for this country.”
TOP: The Marine Band celebrates its 220th anniversary with a special performance July 10 at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. | Photo: Master Sgt. Kristin duBois/courtesy U.S. Marine Corps