Established by an Act of Congress in 1798, the United States Marine Band is
America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Its
mission is unique—to provide music for the President of the United States and
the Commandant of the Marine Corps. President John Adams invited the Marine Band
to make its White House début on New Year’s Day, 1801, in the then-unfinished
Executive Mansion. In March of that year, the band performed for Thomas
Jefferson’s inauguration and it is believed that it has performed for every
presidential inaugural since. In Jefferson, the band found its most visionary
advocate. An accomplished musician himself, Jefferson recognised the unique
relationship between the band and the Chief Executive and he is credited with
giving the Marine Band its title, ‘The President’s Own.’|
Whether performing for State Dinners or South Lawn arrivals, events of national significance, or receptions, Marine Band musicians appear at the White House an average of 200 times each year. These performances range from small ensembles such as a solo pianist, jazz combo or brass quintet to a country band, dance band or full concert band. The diversity of music often presented at the Executive Mansion makes versatility an important requirement for Marine Band members. Musicians are selected at auditions much like those of major symphony orchestras, and they enlist in the US Marine Corps for permanent duty with the Marine Band. Most of today’s members are graduates of the nation’s finest music schools, and more than 60 percent hold advanced degrees in music.
In addition to its White House mission, ‘The President’s Own’ performs an annual season showcase series of indoor concerts and a popular outdoor summer concert series on the National Mall. Musicians from the band are frequently highlighted in solo performances and participate in more intimate chamber ensemble recitals that feature a wide range of smaller instrumental groups. Marine Band musicians also perform in many different types of ceremonies and events throughout the Washington, DC, metropolitan area including the Presidential Inauguration, Full Honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, Honor Flight ceremonies for veterans at the National World War II Memorial, Friday Evening Parades at Marine Barracks, Washington, DC, and educational programs in schools throughout the National Capital Region.
Each fall, the Marine Band travels throughout a portion of the continental United States during its concert tour, a tradition initiated in 1891 by “The March King” John Philip Sousa, who was the band’s legendary 17th director. As director from 1880–92, Sousa brought “The President’s Own” to an unprecedented level of excellence and shaped the band into a world-famous musical organization. Since Sousa’s time, the band’s musical reach has extended beyond America’s borders on several occasions with performances in England, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore, and the former Soviet Union. During Sousa’s tenure, the Marine Band was one of the first musical ensembles to make sound recordings. By 1892, more than 200 different titles were available for sale, placing Sousa’s marches among the first and most popular pieces ever recorded.
The Marine Band’s integral role in the national culture and in the government’s official life has affirmed the importance of the arts as a bridge between people. Since 1798, the Marine Band’s mission has been to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. As the only musical organization with that mission, the Marine Band looks to the future, viewing its history and tradition as the foundation upon which to build its third century of bringing music to the White House and to the American people.