John Philip Sousa
Like apple pie, bald eagles and capitalism, the trilling piccolo and brassy bombast of "Stars and Stripes Forever" is emblematic of America, just as the song's author, John Philip Sousa, wholly defines the military band march. The so-called "March King" was born the son of European immigrants in Washington D.C. on November 6, 1854. Gifted with a sense of perfect pitch, he was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice at 13 by his trombone-playing father and there learned to play all the wind instruments. After leaving the service, Sousa organized his own band which debuted in September of 1892 and toured internationally. Though he composed operas and assorted works for wind and string ensembles, his legacy is defined by his 136 marches, which include "Stars and Stripes Forever" (the congress-declared National March of the United States) and the ubiquitous "Washington Post" and "The Thunderer." He enjoyed a colorful adult hood, including a sideline career as a trap-shooting champion, and died a national hero in 1932.