American bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa was born in Washington D.C. He was the son of Portuguese and German immigrants. His father played trombone in the United States Marine Band, and the younger Sousa was always interested in bands. When he was 13, he nearly ran off to join a circus band. His father found out about the plan, and stuck him in the Marine Band instead.
In addition to playing band instruments, Sousa played violin, and that’s how he met his wife. She was a singer, and he was playing in the orchestra of the theater where she worked. Sousa was also a theater composer — he wrote 15 operettas.
Eventually, John Philip Sousa went back to bands. He spent 12 years as conductor of the Marine Band, and then left to start a concert band of his own. The Sousa Band toured all over the world, playing to sold-out houses.
John Philip Sousa literally continued conducting up until his death. He died suddenly after leading a band rehearsal. The final piece he conducted at the rehearsal was “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”