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"Stars and Stripes Forever"
Published 1897
Genre Patriotic, American march
Composer John Philip Sousa

"Stars and Stripes Forever" is a patriotic American march widely considered to be the magnum opus of composer John Philip Sousa. By act of Congress, it is the National March of the United States of America.[1]



In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa writes that he composed the march on Christmas Day 1896. He had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, then manager of the Sousa Band. Sousa was on a ferry in Europe at the time, and he composed the march in his head. He committed the notes to paper on arrival in America. Although he would conduct performances of it at virtually every concert until his death, only one recording, made in 1909, is known to survive today.


Stars and Stripes Forever follows the standard American march form. Its trio is the most famous part of the march. Most bands adopt the Sousa Band practice of having one or three (never two) piccolo players play the famous obbligato in the first repeat of the trio.[citation needed] In the second repeat (marked "Grandioso"), the low brass joins the piccolo players with a prominent countermelody. The official version, as played by the United States Marine Band, is performed in the key of E-flat.


Sousa wrote lyrics to the piece, but they are not as familiar as the music itself. Many other sets of lyrics, patriotic and otherwise, have been written for the last strain. Two of the most widely known such sets begin with the words "Three cheers for the red white and blue..." and "Be kind to your web-footed friends...".


Sousa's lyrics

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom's shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Other lyrics

  • This gentle parody, widely known to children and existing in many variations, was sung this way at the end of every episode of the popular 1960s TV series Sing Along with Mitch. It was also heard in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode Hollywood Plucky, and an episode of Sesame Street; these parody lyrics are themselves are well-known enough to have spawned many other parodies of their own.
Be kind to your fine feathered friends
For a duck may be somebody's mother
Be kind to your friends in the swamp
Where the weather is very, very damp [pronounced to rhyme with "swamp"]
Now, you may think that this is the end...
WELL, IT IS! [abrupt cut to closing credits]

In popular culture

Stars and Stripes Forever is featured in many U.S. musical performances. The Boston Pops and the National Symphony Orchestra traditionally play the piece at the end of their respective 4th of July concerts each year. Since its inception in 1925, the All-Ohio State Fair Band has completed every single one of its nearly 60 concerts in the first two weeks of August for the Ohio State Fair with the playing of Stars and Stripes Forever. There are also several orchestral transcriptions of "Stars and Stripes Forever" including one by Conductor Leopold Stokowski and one by Keith Brion and Loras Schissel. The song is played traditionally in prerace ceremonies of the Indianapolis 500, which is held Memorial Day weekend.

  • The tune is widely used by soccer fans, with the chorus sung with the words "Here We Go". The supporters of Valencia CF use to sing it with the words "Xe que bó!" which means something like "Oh! How good" in Catalan, and those words has become a symbol for the team.
  • In show business, particularly theater and the circus, this piece is called the Disaster March. It is traditional code signaling a life-threatening emergency. This helps theater personnel to handle events and organize the audience's exit without panic. Circus bands never play it under any other circumstances. One example of its use was at the Hartford Circus Fire in July 1944.
  • The student band Strindens Promenade Orchester in Trondheim, Norway, has the world record in "speed playing" of Stars and Stripes (absolutely all notes must be played). The band calls their speedy rendering of the march Stars and Stribes, and performs the march at all Saturday parties at the Trondheim Student Society. Set during the fall term of 1999, the record time is 50.9 seconds (nominal time is 3 minutes 50 seconds). For this, the band is noted in the Norwegian edition of the Guinness Book of Records. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing band played the piece during the entire opening of The Price Is Right Salutes the Military, a concept host Drew Carey placed as part of the all-military nature of the Veteran's Day show. Fingerstyle guitar virtuoso Guy Van Duser has arranged the tune for solo fingerstyle guitar, including the piccolo obbligato, and plays it during most public performances. Van Duser's arrangement has been covered by Chet Atkins.
  • In Germany, the tune got popular with the product introduction of a Detergent called "Der General" (a pun with military "General" and "Generalreiniger" for all-purpose cleaner). The TV spots started 1984, during an alltime high of German Antiamericanism and Peace Movement. A desperate house wife uses the Detergent ("conquering all dirt with organic alcohol"). During cleaning the tune is played and she receives all insignia of an American four star general. Ironically Sousas tune helped German Henkels US-styled "Der General" to beat Procter & Gambles "Meister Propper" on the German market.
  • A short instrumental clip featured in the "Baby June And Her News Boys" and "Dainty June And Her Newsboys" numbers in the stage musical "Gypsy".
  • The Russian born pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who lived most his life in the United States, wrote a famous transcription of Stars and Stripes Forever for solo piano to celebrate becoming an American citizen. in an interview, Horowitz opined that the march, being a military march, is meant to be played at a walking tempo. He complained that many conductors played the piece too fast, resulting in music that is "hackneyed."


  • Stars and Stripes Forever
    A 1909 Edison Records recording of Sousa's Band performing Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.
    Stars and Stripes Forever
    The United States Marine Band performs Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Problems listening to the files? See media help.

See Also


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Stars and Stripes Forever
by John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa's band playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" (help | file info or download)
Cover page to the sheet music
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain). Flag of the United States.svg


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