The President's Own

NOTES DA CAPO - By John Puffenbarger
November 1995

One cold morning in November 1775, busy citizens of Philadelphia turned their curious gaze upon a small but determined looking military company marching down the street to the stirring cadence of rolling drums and whistling fifes. It might have been the music, or it might have been the resolution they saw in those marching men, but the early morning activity of the city was suspended by the sight of this little group pacing the cobblestone streets. Some spectators recognized them as marines.

Fifes and drums were the only instruments generally used in those days, and when ten or more played together it was called a band. Thus the U.S. Marine Band, the nation's oldest military musical organization, came into being with the organization of the Continental Marines 10 November 1775. Twenty-three years later, on 11 July 1798 President John Adams signed an Act of Congress creating a per7nanent Marine Corps and officially designating the formation of a Marine Band. Instrumentation was established as one drum major, one fife major, and thirty-two drums and fifes. Its primary mission was for recruiting.

On New Year's Day 1801 the Marine Band played for President John Adams at the Executive Mansion. This White House engagement was the beginning of a tradition, which became so well established that today the name U.S. Marine Band and "The President's Own" are synonymous throughout the world.

While it is primarily known as "The President's Own," the band also might be called the "band of the people." In 1890, during the twelve-year leadership of the "March King," John Philip Sousa, the Marine Band received the President's approval to make a nationwide tour. Since that time, they have toured annually.

In the early 1900s, instrumentation was increased to seventy-five, then eighty-five, and again in 1955 to one hundred. Today the band maintains a very busy schedule. Since their first White House engagement in 1801, the red-coated Marine musicians have played for every president as well as for visiting heads of state and dignitaries from around the world.

The Marine Band has visited West Virginia a number of times. One of the most recent trips was to the campus of Davis and Elkins College in Elkins.