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The Stars and Stripes Forever

"The Stars and Stripes Forever"
Stars and Stripes Forever 1.jpg
Published 1897 (1897)
Genre Patriotic, American march
Composer(s) John Philip Sousa

"The Stars and Stripes Forever", as performed by the United States Navy Band.

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" is a patriotic American march widely considered to be the magnum opus of composer John Philip Sousa. 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.

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" follows the standard American military march form. The march begins with a four-bar introduction, which is followed by a dotted, playful melody. Its trio is the most famous part of the march. Piccolo players play the famous obbligato in the first repeat of the trio (the one after the breakstrain). In the final repeat of the trio (grandioso), the low brass joins the piccolo players with a prominent countermelody.

Sousa wrote lyrics to the piece, although they are not as familiar as the music itself. The typical pairing of Sousa's lyrics with the various sections of the march is noted in the square brackets.

[First Strain]
Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom's shield and hope.

[Second Strain]
Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

(repeats) Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

[Repeat of the First Strain]
Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

  • 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.
  • 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 "Stars & 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.
  • Parts of the tune feature in two Laurel and Hardy short films, The Chimp and Come Clean.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A 1952 biographical film, Stars and Stripes Forever, gives an account of the composer's life and music.
  • The Russian born pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who lived most his life in the United States, 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.
  • 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.
  • The march was adapted for the theme song to The Berenstain Bears 1985 cartoon.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It was played during the January 5, 2015, episode of WWE Raw when Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, known as The Authority, organized "John Cena Appreciation Night", only to slander Cena and (kayfabe) fire Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and Erick Rowan at the end of the night. Ziggler, Ryback, and Rowan (along with Big Show before he turned his back on his team) were Cena's teammates in a match at the past Survivor Series that ultimately led to The Authority being stripped of their power, until Cena brought them back on the final Raw of 2014.
  • In Argentina, a sensationalist news channel Crónica TV always uses part of this march as a background music on reporting a breaking news.
  • The Grateful Dead finished their 50th reunion concert on July 4, 2015 with fireworks accompanied by a recording of "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.
  • 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.


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