July 8, 1998
I can still remember the words of the Marines' Hymn, which I learned as a
little girl: "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we
fight our country's battles in the air, on land and sea ... "
Imagine, all these years later, what a treat it is to hear the Marine
Band play the Marines' Hymn. Actually, it's a treat to hear the Marine
Band play anything.
On July 11, 1798, President John Adams signed an Act of Congress
establishing the United States Marine Band. It was Thomas Jefferson, a
violinist himself, who dubbed the band -- now the nation's oldest
professional musical organization and the Marine Corps' oldest
continuously active unit -- "The President's Own."
In the White House, no occasion goes unmarked without the help of the
Marine Band. Since its inception, the band has performed for the most
somber and celebratory events in our country's history -- from the first
Independence Day in the White House to the funeral of John F. Kennedy.
If you were to visit the White House for the arrival of a foreign head of
state -- such as the unforgettable day in September 1993 when Yitzhak
Rabin and Yassir Arafat shook hands on the South Lawn -- you would hear
the band and appreciate the dignity it lends to such occasions. Whenever
foreign heads of state visit, the band goes to extra lengths to make them
feel welcome. Recently, it learned a traditional Korean folk song called
"Magnolia" for South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung.
"The President's Own" plays "Hail to the Chief," with its preceding
fanfare "Ruffles and Flourishes," to announce the arrival of the
President at state functions. The band also accompanies famous
entertainers performing at the White House, such as Beverly Sills,
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Johnny Cash, Ethel Merman and Leonard Bernstein. And
members play at traditional events, including the annual Easter Egg Roll,
where they accompany the delighted squeals of children racing over the
South Lawn with their Easter eggs.
In all, the band performs over 700 times annually, more than 200 at the
White House. The band also has talented singers, solo pianists and
harpists, and can form a number of ensembles, including concert and
marching bands, a chamber orchestra, string ensembles, a dance band and a
For my birthday last October, I was treated to several renditions from
the country ensemble, which brought the house down with Mary Chapin
Carpenter's "Down at the Twist and Shout" and that old bluegrass favorite
This week, we're turning the spotlight on the band as we celebrate its
200th birthday. We've planned a grand lawn party to which all 153 members
and their families are invited, along with retired band members, the
Commandant of the Marine Corps and Members of Congress.
At their birthday party, the band will perform "'S Wonderful" by George
Gershwin, "Unforgettable" by Irving Gordon, "Semper Fidelis" and "The
Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa and of course the
No tribute to the band is complete without selections from Sousa, the
band's most famous director, who held the baton from 1880 until 1892. It
was under Sousa's direction that the band made its first concert tour and
became one of the first musical ensembles to record cylinders for Thomas
Edison's amazing new invention, the phonograph.
On June 2, 1886, Sousa and the band played for the only Presidential
wedding in White House history, when President Grover Cleveland married
Frances Folsom. It's truly remarkable to think about the history this
group has witnessed -- every Presidential Inauguration since Thomas
Jefferson's, the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument,
the Gettysburg address, the wedding of Theodore Roosevelt's daughter
Alice, and a rain-soaked concert during Franklin Roosevelt's
administration when Winston Churchill sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
My husband, who's a great music lover, is one of the Marine Band's
greatest fans and has been invited, on occasion, to sit in with the band.
Sometimes, during a State Dinner or some other performance, I'll catch
him tapping his toes to the beat, and I know he's dying to trade places
with one of the saxophonists.
"The President's Own" United States Marine Band serves not only to
entertain but also to represent the President and the country here in the
White House, around the nation and around the world. It is with great
pride that we honor and acknowledge its achievements this week.
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