The Stars and Stripes Forever
National march of the United States
|Lyrics||John Philip Sousa, May 1897|
|Music||John Philip Sousa, December 1896|
The Stars and Stripes Forever, a march by John Philip Sousa
"The Stars and Stripes Forever" is a patriotic American march written and composed by John Philip Sousa, widely considered to be his magnum opus. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America.
In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa wrote that he composed the march on Christmas Day, 1896. He was on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe and had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band. He composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. It was first performed at Willow Grove Park, just outside Philadelphia, on May 14, 1897, and was immediately greeted with enthusiasm. Following an Act of Congress in 1987, it was officially adopted as the national march of the United States of America.
Historically, in show business and particularly in theater and the circus, this piece is called "the Disaster March". In the early 20th century, when it was common for theaters and circuses to have house bands, this march was a traditional code signaling a life-threatening emergency. It subtly notified personnel of emergency situations and ideally allowed them to organize the audience's exit without causing the chaos and panic that an overt declaration might. Circus bands would never play the tune under circumstances other than impending disaster. One memorable example of its use was during the Hartford circus fire of July 6, 1944. At least 168 people were killed, though some estimates are much higher.
The Stars and Stripes Forever follows the standard U.S. military march form—of repeated phrasing of different melodies performed in sections called strains: a Sousa legacy. Performances vary according to the arrangements of individual band directors or orchestrators, especially regarding tempo and the number and sequence of strains employed.
A typical performance of the march begins with the four-bar introduction, following with the first strain, which is repeated; then the second strain, which is also repeated; and sometimes both are repeated again if (the band is) marching in parade ; (or the breakstrain may be interjected and repeated). Now follows the dominant woodwinds in the first run of the famous Trio strain—familiar to many for the nonsense lyrics: "O' be kind to your web-footed friends .."—which repeats, and later repeats again as the piccolos obligato. (Here, in some performances, Sousa's patriotic lyrics may be sung in a choral overlay.) Then follows the breakstrain, the final strain, and the breakstrain repeated. The final repeats of the Trio (the Grandioso) render the famous obligato of the piccolo players—joined to a subdued but prominent countermelody by the brass section; then bringing everything to a close with once-more repeats of the grand finale.
Sousa explained to the press that the three themes of the final trio were intended to represent the three regions of the United States. The broad melody, or main theme, portrays the North. The South is represented by the famous piccolo obligato, and the West by the bold countermelody of the trombones. The three come together in the climax, representing the Union itself.
Sousa wrote lyrics to the piece, although they are not as familiar as the music itself. A typical pairing of Sousa's lyrics with various sections of the march—here the First strain and the Grandioso strain—is noted in the colored bars.
Let martial note in triumph float
𝄆 Other nations may deem their flags the best
Hurrah for the flag of the free!
Hurrah for the flag of the free.
Tidmarsh's additional lyrics
In 1942 the John Church Company published a four-part choral version of the march with a piano arrangement by Elmer Arthur Tidmarsh. This arrangement has additional lyrics written by Tidmarsh for the Breakstrain section of the march.
The exact origin of the parody is unclear, but versions of it were being quoted as early as the 1930s on college campuses, and during the 1940s, where it was sung for entertainment by soldiers at the USO.  Some newspapers of that time referred to it as the "Duck Song."  In 1954, Charles Grean and Joan Javits composed "Crazy Mixed Up Song", using the theme from The Stars and Stripes Forever, with lyrics beginning "Be kind to your web-footed friends". It was made somewhat popular by Peter Lind Hayes & Mary Healy in that year. In the early 1960s, it reached a wider audience as a part of a nationally syndicated sing-along show, "Mitch Miller and the Gang". This version has perhaps the best known lyrics, which were used to end every show:
O' be kind to your web-footed friends,
For a duck may be somebody's mother.
Be kind to your friends in the swamp,
Where the weather is very, very damp,
Now you may think that this is the end,
Well it is!
"Here We Go", the best known and most widespread English football chant, consist of the words "here we go" continuously repeated to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever. It was described by Auberon Waugh as the national anthem of the working classes. It was the basis of Everton F.C.'s official song for the 1984 FA Cup Final. The tune has been repurposed for many other, similarly repetitive, football chants.
Variations and notable uses
The Stars and Stripes Forever is featured in many U.S. musical performances and pop culture:
- There are several orchestral transcriptions of The Stars and Stripes Forever, including one by conductor Leopold Stokowski and one by Keith Brion and Loras Schissel. There was also an orchestral arrangement of the march by Carl Davis and David Cullen for the album Carl Conducts...Classical Festival Favourites.
- The tune is widely used by soccer fans, with the trio/grandioso section sung with the words "Here We Go". The supporters of Spanish side Valencia CF used to sing it with the words "Xe que bó!" which means something like "Oh! How good" in Catalan, and those words have become a symbol for the team. Another version uses the word cheerio repeatedly, normally sung to players or coaches when they have been sent off or occasionally when an underdog has ended its opponent's cup campaign. Finally, certain clubs such as Forest Green or Sunderland use the chant just using the club name; this only works if the name has three syllables. A nickname can instead be used for the chant, such as Gateshead fans chanting "Tynesiders".
- In the classic 1933 film Duck Soup, Harpo Marx, playing Pinky, a spy infiltrating a house in the middle of the night, attempts to open what he believes to be a safe, but turns out to be a large radio, which loudly begins playing The Stars and Stripes Forever when he turns the knob. Pinky spends the next several moments futilely (and loudly) trying to quell the noise before throwing the radio out a nearby window.
- Classic Popeye the Sailor cartoons by Fleischer Studios make frequent use of the tune in the music score accompanying the climactic fight between Popeye and the villain starting with the moment Popeye gets a spinach power boost.
- In show business, particularly theater and the circus, this piece is called "the Disaster March". It is a traditional code signaling a life-threatening emergency. This helps theater personnel to handle events and organize the audience's exit without panic. Circus bands never play it under any other circumstances. One memorable example of its use was at the Hartford Circus Fire in July 1944, in which at least 160 people were killed.
- A 1952 biographical film, Stars and Stripes Forever, gives an account of the composer's life and music.
- Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz wrote a famous transcription of The Stars and Stripes Forever for solo piano to celebrate his becoming an American citizen. In an interview, Horowitz opined that the march, being a military march, is meant to be played at a walking tempo. He complained that many conductors played the piece too fast, resulting in music that is "hackneyed".
- In "Evolution", the first episode of the third season of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, a malfunction in the ship's systems causes the main computer to play Sousa's march on all channels throughout the ship. The episode was first aired on September 25, 1989.
- The song is usually played for the President of the United States after he gives a speech at a public forum, event, or ceremony, whereas "Hail to the Chief" is played when the President is introduced.
- The tune of the song appears in the 1970 animated TV special adaptation of Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss, used as the melody for the song Be Kind To Your Small Person Friends.
- The march was adapted for the theme song to The Berenstain Bears 1985 cartoon.
- The student band Strindens Promenade Orchester in Trondheim, Norway, has the world record in "speed playing" of The Stars and Stripes Forever (absolutely all notes must be played). The band calls their speedy rendering of the march "Stars and Stribes", and performs the march at all Saturday parties at the Trondheim Student Society. Set during the fall term of 1999, the record time is 50.9 seconds (nominal time is 3 minutes 50 seconds). For this, the band is noted in the Norwegian edition of the Guinness Book of Records.
- American composer Robert W. Smith parodied Stars and Stripes Forever along with "Jingle Bells" with his composition "Jingle Bells Forever", published by Alfred Publishing Co.
- In 2008, the Muppets performed a web version starring Sam the Eagle, Beaker, a clucking chicken, Bobo the Bear, The Swedish Chef, and Crazy Harry.
- At the conclusion of WWE's Extreme Rules pay-per-view in 2011, Stars and Stripes Forever played following John Cena announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden.
- In Argentina, a sensationalist news channel Crónica TV always uses part of this march as a background music on reporting a breaking news story.
- The Grateful Dead finished their 50th reunion concert on July 4, 2015 with fireworks accompanied by a recording of The Stars and Stripes Forever, in front of 70,000 people in Soldier Field in Chicago. The recording followed an uncharacteristically predictable live encore performance of the band's tongue-in-cheek "U.S. Blues", which led to speculation about whether Sousa's anthem was being celebrated ironically, or championed as a piece of uniquely American entertainment.
- "36 U.S. Code § 304 – National march". United States Code. United States: Cornell Law School. August 12, 1998. Retrieved November 2, 2006.
The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' is the national march.
- "The Story of "Stars and Stripes Forever"". Public Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on June 6, 2012. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
- Van Outryve, Karen. "Appreciating An Old Favorite: Sousa's All-Time Hit." Music Educators Journal 92.3 (2006): 15. Academic Search Complete. Web. April 19, 2012.
- "To designate The Stars and Stripes Forever as the national march of the United States of America" (PDF). United States Government Publishing Office. December 11, 1987.
- Michael Skidgell, The Hartford Circus Fire: Tragedy Under the Big Top (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2014) p. 43 ISBN 978-1-625-84522-1.
- Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), p. 43, as cited in "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896).
- Bierley, Paul E., “The Works of John Philip Sousa” Integrity Press, Westerville, OH, 1984.
- Sousa, John Philip, & Tidmarsh, Elmer A. (1942.) "The Stars and Stripes Forever." USA: The John Church Company.
- Henry Jova. "Berry Patch." Cornell Daily Sun (Ithaca NY), December 12, 1939, p. 4.
- "Bits of Local Fare for the Men Over There." Wakefield (MI) Daily News, January 7, 1944, p. 4.
- "Miami Herald Song Parade." Miami Herald, May 29, 1943, p. 8.
- "1954 Hits Archive: Crazy Mixed Up Song (Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends) – Peter and Mary". 1954.
- Jennifer Gavin (July 23, 2009). "Be Kind to Your Web-Posting Friends". United States Library of Congress.
- Scott Deveaux and Gary Giddins. Jazz. W. W. Norton & Company; Second edition (February 1, 2015). p. 70. ISBN 978-0393937060.
- Gale, Emily Margot (2014). Sounding Sentimental: American Popular Song From Nineteenth-Century Ballads to 1970s Soft Rock (PDF) (PhD). University of Virginia.
- "Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends". Sony. 1958.
- Kuper, Simon (1996) . Football Against The Enemy. London: Phoenix Books. p. 215. ISBN 1857994698.
- On This Day in Connecticut History, by Gregg Mangan, page 159.
- http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-hartford-circus-fire Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91407414 Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- "The Grateful Dead Bids Fare Thee Well to Fans After Fifty Years". The Huffington Post. July 7, 2015.
- Bierley, Paul E. John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon. Miami, FL: Warner Bros. Publications, 2001.
- Sousa, John Philip, & Tidmarsh, Elmer A. (1942.) "The Stars and Stripes Forever". USA: The John Church Company.
- Skidgell, Michael. The Hartford Circus Fire: Tragedy Under the Big Top. Stroud, U.K.: The History Press, 2014.
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