John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), known to many as the "March King" because of his highly successful career as a band leader and composer, was vehemently opposed to the recording technologies of his time. It wasn't until after the advent of electrical recording in 1925 that he began gradually to accept the practices of sound recording.
Sousa led the United States Marine Corps Band (better known as the "President's Own") from 1880 to 1892. Between 1890 and 1892, the band recorded 229 titles on the cylinder format. Based on existing documentation and research, scholars widely believe that Sousa was not the conductor during those sessions.
After leaving the "President's Own," Sousa started his own band that he led until his death. The Sousa Band (in varying forms and membership) recorded 1,770 titles both on cylinder and on flat-disc media, but only eight were conducted by Sousa himself. Rather, the majority of the recording sessions were conducted by Arthur Pryor (a Sousa Band trombonist), Herbert L. Clarke (a Sousa Band cornetist), or others.
There are only three other recording sessions in which Sousa is conducting a band that are known to exist. In 1926, he was asked to be a guest conductor for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company Cooperative Band, and he recorded two titles with them. The other extant recording is the result of a surviving transcription of Sousa conducting his band for an NBC radio broadcast on Thanksgiving of 1929.
This guide contains a compiled list/discography of the known recording sessions in which Sousa was the conductor. It should be noted that of the eight Sousa Band commercially recorded titles conducted by Sousa, only six have ever been released; "America First March" and an arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" were never released. Also of note is that for each session, various "takes" were recorded, but only the best were used for the pressings, meaning, of course, that there are multiple versions of these songs that have never been issued.
In the year 2000, Crystal Records released a 3-CD set entitled Sousa Marches Played by the Sousa Band: The Complete Commercial Recordings (1897-1930). Although the compilation certainly does not include all 1,770 titles recorded by the band in this period, it is the most comprehensive set available to date. It features all six of the released recordings conducted by Sousa and the surviving 1929 NBC broadcast, accompanied by Sousa's spoken introduction. The two titles recorded by the Philadelphia band in 1926, however, are not included on the set.
Music researchers and collectors should exercise caution when locating compilations of recordings that are said to be "conducted by Sousa." There are numerous such collections, and often, they do not include proper source documentation or discographic details, leaving the provenance of the recordings in some doubt. It is hoped that this research aid will enable the Sousa student to identify appropriate material more accurately. Scholarship undertaken by Bierley, Smart, and Williams (see the bibliography) should be consulted, as these scholars are considered some of the preeminent experts in this field.
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This research guide was compiled in 2007 by Timothy D. Hufnagle, then an Instructor in the Department of Popular Culture and a Graduate Supervisor in the Music Library and Sound Recordings Archives at BGSU.