John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known particularly for American military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as "The March King."
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on November 6, 1854, to John Antonio Sousa and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus. His parents were of Portuguese and Bavarian descent. Sousa started his music education by playing the violin as a pupil of John Esputa and G. F. Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. When Sousa reached the age of 13, his father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice to keep him from joining a circus band. Sousa served his apprenticeship for seven years until 1875 and apparently learned to play all the wind instruments while honing his mettle with the violin.
On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis. They had three children together: John Philip, Jr., Jane Priscilla, and Helen. All are buried in the John Philip Sousa plot in the Congressional Cemetery. Jane joined the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1907.
Several years after serving his apprenticeship, Sousa joined a theatrical orchestra where he learned to conduct. He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor until 1892. Sousa led "The President's Own" band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison. Sousa's band played at two Inaugural Balls, those of James Garfield in 1881, and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.