Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
More than 20,000 students from the Washington public schools, accompanied by their parents and friends, gathered on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution on June 15, 1899, to attend the award ceremonies of an essay-writing contest and to hear John Philip Seusa conduct a concert by the United States Marine Band. On the occasion, the world first heard a composition that is forever linked to the name of this newspaper.
The Washington Post March," described by one Sousa expert as "one of the half-dozen greatest that Sousa ever wrote," had a modest birthday celebration Wednesday on the west front of the Capitol Building. The west Marine Band, conducted by Lt. Col. Jack T. Kline, Sousa's latest susccesor as the band's director, gave the march a rousing performance as part of a program that also included music of Mozart, Mendelssohm, Aaron Copland and Victor Herbert. We should all be so lively on our 88th birthdays.
In 1889, The Washington Post March" was frontpage news, at least in The Washington Post, which referred to itself in breathless capital letters in the style of the time. "Mr Sousa's march, dedicated to the THE POST, is a light and melodious composition and was heartilly applauded,"The Post reported in its 16-page Sunday edition the next morning. (The typographical error in that quote is in the original.) "The enthusiasm with which Mr. Sousa and his musicians entered into the affair contributed largely to the success of the occasion."
President Benjamin Harrison had been expected to attend but went boating on the Potomac instead. He was defeated for reelection three years later.
The march, commissioned by The Washington Post to be played at the awards ceremonies for its student writers essay contest, was a shrewd public relations investment. It became the thematic music for a new dance, the two-step, that swept the waltz out of public favor, and it was so popular that in some foreign countries the two-step was called "The Washington Post."
Sousa's commission for writing marches at that time ranged between $25 and $35, with no royalties; his salary as leader of the Marine Band was about $1,5000 per year, so that would have been about a week's pay. Later, he began collecting royalties on his new compositions, and "The Liberty Bell" alone earned him $35,000 within a few years.
Other publishers were less enterprising; otherwise, today the Marine Band might be playing "The New York Times Gavotte," The Chicago Tribune Polka" and "The Daily News Rag."