John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on November 6, 1854. He began studying at John Esputas musical conservatory in Washington in 1861, and learned to play a number of band instruments. After serving as a member of the US Marine Band (1868-72), he studied violin, theory and harmony with George F. Benkert. After various stints as a conductor and violinist with bands and orchestras in Washington and on tour, he moved to Philadelphia. There, he conducted the Philadelphia Church Choir Co., for which he composed his first comic opera, The Smugglers. In 1880, he became conductor of the US Marine Band. During his twelve years at the helm, he reorganized the band and composed marches for it, including "Semper Fidelis" (1888) and "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1897).
In 1892, Sousa left the Marine Band and formed his own band, which he led on tours of the United States, four trips to Europe and one tour (1910-12) around the world. He was appointed musical director if the Sixth Army Corps during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, he was director of the Navy bands, touring with the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Band to raise money for Liberty Loan campaigns. He composed more than one hundred marches, ten comic operas, over fifty songs and twelve suites before his death in Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1932.