You don't have to be a lover of marches to tap your toes when you hear "The Stars and Stripes Forever." For most of us, our toes automatically begin to tap the floor. It's John Philip Sousa who wrote the song that causes such a stir and yes, he visited Denison.

You don’t have to be a lover of marches to tap your toes when you hear “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” For most of us, our toes automatically begin to tap the floor. It’s John Philip Sousa who wrote the song that causes such a stir and yes, he visited Denison.

It doesn’t take much red, white and blue to bring tears to my eyes and set my heart jumping and “Stars and Stripes Forever” does that every time. Guess being a patriot at heart could be another reason for the excitement.

While visiting in a Waxahachie home a few years ago, the host placed a wax-cylinder roll on an antique Edison and you guessed it, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” began playing with the music coming out of the long narrow horn. I almost saluted.

She told us how Sousa had visited Waxahachie and played in the Chautauqua there. A Chautauqua was the annual summer educational and recreational assembly once held in the town of Chautauqua, N.Y. beginning in 1874. Chautauquas swept the nation and singing and other music as well as “Expression” (reading) were added to the events there, according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

Sousa also played in Denison, not once, but twice, according to an account of those visits as recorded by Claud Easterly, late editor of The Denison Herald, who was fortunate enough to interview him.

Easterly was a cub reporter at the time and said he was scared to death and in awe at the same time to be standing and talking to such a musician. He said he kept stammering and apologizing for interrupting Sousa and telling him if it wasn’t convenient, he would come back.

After a long time, Sousa finally looked at him and said “Son, if you’re going to ask me some questions, get on with it.” Easterly said the interview was one of his most prized encounters.

Sousa’s performance in Denison, as were Madam Schuman Hanks who came before him, and Houdini, who came later, was in the auditorium of the old Denison High School that was demolished in 2007. At that time it was the auditorium, but in later years it was known as the study hall.

Easterly said that those attending the performance sat in students’ seats on the main floor, where students in grades 10-12 used the desks. Freshmen sat in the horseshoe shaped balcony.

The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) sponsored performances of outstanding musicians around the country, and Denison being on the Katy Railroad between Dallas and Oklahoma City, many of those performers stopped off for appearances in Denison.

The old high school auditorium (study hall) served as Denison’s only civic auditorium until the auditorium on the north side of the school was built. That was the first section of the old school to be demolished.

Sousa became known as the March King. He was an American composer and conductor known specially for American Military and patriotic marches. Among his best known marches are “The Washington Post”, “Semper Fidelis,” (official march of the United States Marine Corps, and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” that became the national march of the United States. In all, he wrote 36 marches.

There is no doubt that Sousa wowed the crowds that gathered to hear him and his band play everywhere they went across the country.

He was born in 1854 and grew up around military bands since his father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band. He began studying around age six and his dad enlisted him in the Marines when he was 13 to keep him from running away to join a circus band. He published his first composition when he was 18.

Sousa had served in the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. He was a Marine from 1868 to 1875, and from 1880 to 1892 and in the Navy from 1917 to 1918, commanding bands. He died of heart failure at the age of 77 on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, PA after conducting a rehearsal of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” his most popular piece, the previous day with the Ringgold Band. He is buried in Washington D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.

In 2004 members of the U.S. Marine Band marked Sousa’s 150th birthday by honoring him in ceremonies dedicated to his marches and his lesser-known operettas and popular songs. At his grave in Washington, 30 members of the U.S. Marine Band played their cornets, saxophones and sousaphones in his honor.

Still today no one can help but get a smile on their face when the beat of a Sousa march is heard. Those toes start automatically tapping.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.