Whilst Sousa and his wife were holidaying in Europe in late 1896, he received word that the manager of his band had died. They immediately set sail for America, and it was while pacing the deck during the cruise home that this tune came to him:
"As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."
(from his autobiography)
It was an immediate success, and has remained one of Sousa's best known marches (he composed 135). In 1987 it was declared the national march of the USA. It was also the last piece he ever conducted, when he died (aged 77) after leading a rehearsal.
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