The United States Marine Band is the premier band of the United States Marine Corps. Established by act of Congress on July 11, 1798, it is the oldest of the United States military bands and the oldest professional musical organization in the United States. Today, the Marine Band also includes the Marine Chamber Orchestra and Marine Chamber Ensembles.
The Marine Band has been uniquely known as "The President's Own" since 1801 due to the historic connection to the President of the United States. The relationship between the Marine Band and the White House began on New Year's Day 1801, when President John Adams invited the band to perform at the Executive Mansion. Later that year, Thomas Jefferson initiated the tradition of Marine Band performances by requesting that it perform at his inauguration. The Marine Band has played at every United States presidential inauguration since. President Thomas Jefferson gave the title "The President's Own" in 1801.
Today, the Marine Band performs in approximately 500 events every year including state funerals, state arrival ceremonies, state dinners, parades, concerts, and other social events. The Marine Band also travels across the country each October and November during its fall concert tour, a tradition that began in 1891 under its most famous director, composer John Philip Sousa.
The Marine Band recruits experienced musicians; members are selected through a rigorous audition procedure and must satisfy additional security and physical requirements to be eligible. Selected band members serve under a four-year contract as active duty enlisted Marines and are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and physical standards. They are the only members of the United States Armed Forces not required to undergo recruit training and do not perform combat missions. Also, they are not assigned to any unit other than the Marine Band.
The band members start at the rank of Staff Sergeant, and wear rank insignia with a lyre replacing the normal crossed rifles. Commissioned officers are drawn from the band, although drum majors are career Marines and are selected from the Marine Corps field bands, as they are responsible for the military development of the band's members. As of 2010, the USMC spends about $10 million annually to support the band.
The Marine Band's performance schedule is coordinated by the Marine Band Branch of Headquarters Marine Corps Public Affairs, which works with the Director of the Marine Band and the Marine Band Operations Office to schedule performances and ceremonies by the band, chamber orchestra, and chamber ensembles.
The Marine Band also has a professional support staff (Library, Recording Lab, Stage Managers, and Stage Crew) as well as the Administration, Public Affairs, and Supply offices, who work to coordinate, promote, and facilitate performances throughout the year.
The full band has a complement of about 130 members, but they all play together only rarely.
A 42-piece band is used for all Pentagon and formal military arrivals and patriotic openers for large events. Patriotic openers are 15 minutes of patriotic music, including the presentation and retirement of the colors, "The Star-Spangled Banner" (national anthem), and the "Marines' Hymn." Patriotic openers are performed throughout the Washington metropolitan area at a variety of events for military organizations, federal agencies, and associations.
Events that the Marine Band participates in include:
The early leadership of the Marine Band consisted of both a Drum Major and a Fife Major, who wore identical uniforms. The Drum Major was considered the Leader of the Marine Band, while the Fife Major's responsibility was to train the fifers. The first leader of the United States Marine Band was William Farr, who is listed in historical records as having served as Drum Major from January 21, 1799.
After the retirement of Drum Major Raphael Triay in 1855, then-Fife Major Francis Scala became Drum Major. On July 25, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress to reorganize the Marine Band. This act abolished the rank of Fife Major (and in 1881 the fife was removed from Marine Corps instrumentation entirely), created the positions of Leader of the Band/Principal Musician, Drum Major, and authorized 30 musicians. Scala was the first Marine Band musician to receive the title "Leader of the Band"; John Roach was selected as Drum Major.
The earliest recorded Second Leader of the United States Marine Band was Salvador Petrola. Marine Band cornetist Walter F. Smith, who performed under 17th director, John Philip Sousa, became the first official Second Leader when an Act of Congress established the positions of First Leader and Second Leader of the Marine Band in March 1899.
Many changes took place during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. The titles First Leader and Second Leader were replaced by Director and Assistant Director. When Albert F. Schoepper was appointed as Director in 1955, a second Assistant Director was added to the Marine Band leadership. Today, the Assistant Director positions are designated in two titles: Senior Assistant Director and Executive Officer, and Assistant Director. It is also during the Eisenhower administration that the first "Soloist and Moderator" was appointed. William D. Jones, known as the original soloist with the new US Air Force Band and originator and director of the Singing Sergeants, was transferred by an Act of Congress to the USMC Band and given the title "Ambassador of Music." The Soloist and Moderator served as the senior enlisted member until 1972, when Schoepper and Jones retired.
Today, the Drum Major serves as the senior enlisted member of "The President's Own" and is responsible for the band's appearance, ceremonial drill, and military decorum. He is charged with directing the band in ceremonies, including the inaugural parade, and regularly leads the band in review for presidents and visiting heads of state and other dignitaries.
The Drum Major's uniform is unique; he wears a bearskin headpiece and carries a ceremonial mace used to signal commands to the musicians. The drum major also wears the officer's version of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (the Marine Corps emblem). He also wears an ornate baldric, similar to a sash, embroidered with the band's crest and the Marine Corps' battle honors, as well as miniatures of his own medals.
Thomas Powell Knox joined the Marine Band in 1961 as a trumpet player and moved to the arranging staff in 1966. Three years later, Knox was appointed chief arranger and continued to compose and arrange for the Marine Band until his retirement in 1985. Some of his more notable compositions include "God of Our Fathers" (commissioned for Ronald Reagan's first inauguration) and "American Pageant," which was commissioned for Richard Nixon's first inauguration. Knox arranged or composed over 300 pieces, many of which are still played by the Marine Band and other bands across America.
Sousa's "Semper Fidelis March", the official march of the United States Marine Corps. Performed by the Marine Band in 1989.
Sousa's march "The Washington Post". Performed by the Marine Band.
Sousa's march "King Cotton". Performed by the Marine Band.
Sousa's march "Manhattan Beach". Performed by the Marine Band.
Sousa's march "Stars and Stripes Forever". Performed by the Marine Band.
Sousa's march "The Thunderer". Performed by the Marine Band in 1896.
"The White Cockade" march, played by fifes and drums of the Marine Band in 1992.
"The Marines' Hymn", the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. Performed by the Marine Band.
John Philip Sousa, was appointed the 17th leader of the Marine Band on October 1, 1880, serving in this position until July 30, 1892.
The Marine Band, led at the time by Sousa, were instrumental in the development of musical recording due partly to their proximity to the Columbia Phonograph Company, 1891.
Charles Owen, a marimba soloist and timpanist, beating a drum at Marine Barracks Washington, May 1942.
John R. Bourgeois, composer and director of the Marine Band from 1979 to 1996.
Members of the Marine Band holding drums during a rehearsal at Marine Barracks Washington for the 57th presidential inauguration, January 18, 2013.
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