Did Sousa write "Hail to the Chief"?

Q: Did Sousa write "Hail to the Chief" (played for the President of the United States)?

A: No. As far as the Library of Congress can ascertain, the first time "Hail to the Chief" was associated with a president was in 1815. An old account tells about its being played in Boston on Feb. 22 that year at a joint celebration of Washington's birthday and the end of the war of 1812. The first documented performance for the president was July 4, 1828 when the Marine Band played it for John Quincy Adams at the groundbreaking of the C&O Canal (thanks to Capt. Frank Byrne of the U.S. Marine Band for this info).

James Sanderson, an Englishman, wrote the music as a part of his work setting a portion of the poem by Sir Walter Scott, "The Lady of the Lake," to music. That was around 1810. The music first appeared in the United States around 1812.

President Chester A. Arthur asked Sousa to compose a replacement for it. Sousa responded with both the "Presidential Polonaise" and his personal favorite march, "Semper Fidelis". Arthur didn't live to hear Semper Fi, and neither piece was able to oust "Hail to the Chief". Semper Fidelis went on to become the official march of the Marine Corps.

  • Wednesday, 13 June 2012

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