The best known American composer of marches, John Philip Sousa, was born on November 6, 1854 in Washington, D.C. He learned to play the violin (as well as several wind instruments) and studied harmony and orchestration before joining the Marine Band in 1868. He served in the band until 1875. He also performed in various theater orchestras. In 1876, he was a violinist in an orchestra conducted by Offenbach during his American tour. An appointment to direct the Marine Band in 1880 brought him back to bands and marches. Sousa directed the Marine Band until 1892, when he formed his own band which toured North America and Europe to great success. The Sousa Band performed at the Chicago World's Fair (1893) and the 1900 Paris Exhibition, which was noted for its diverse music. During the First World War, Sousa joined the Naval Reserve and served his annual tours for many more years. Aside from composing marches, operettas and incidental music, Sousa was also involved in the development of the sousaphone, a bass tuba with an upright bell used in marching bands since the 1890s, and named after Sousa. John Philip Sousa died in 1932, but his legacy lives on. Stars and Stripes Forever became the official march of the US in 1987, by act of Congress signed by Ronald Reagan.
Sousa left us an autobiography, Marching Along, which provides his insights into his own life. And, the major Sousa scholar, Paul E. Bierley, wrote a biography, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon, as well as several other works on Sousa's works. The Polley Music Library has these, as well as several CDs of his works, and piano transcriptions of Sousa's Great Marches.