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United States Marine Band: Wikis


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The United States Marine Band in 1864
The Marine Chamber Orchestra in 1988 at the White House Entrance Hall for the state visit of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom
United States Marine Band uniforms

The United States Marine Band is the premiere band of the United States Marine Corps. Established by act of Congress on July 11, 1798, it is the oldest of the United States military bands and the oldest professional musical organization in the United States. Today the Band also includes the Marine Chamber Orchestra and Marine Chamber Ensembles.

The Marine Band is separate from its sister United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps ("The Commandant's Own") and the 12 active duty Marine Corps field bands.

The Marine Band is uniquely known as The President's Own because of its historic connection to the President of the United States. The relationship between the Marine Band and the White House began on New Year's Day 1801, when President John Adams invited the band to perform at the Executive Mansion. Later that year, Thomas Jefferson initiated the tradition of Marine Band performances by requesting that the Band perform at his inauguration. The Marine Band has played at every presidential inauguration since.

Today, the Marine Band performs more than 500 annual public and official concerts, appearing at the White House for State Arrival Ceremonies, state dinners, and social events more than 300 times each year. The Marine Band also travels across the country each October and November during its fall concert tour, a tradition that began in 1891 under its most famous director, composer John Philip Sousa.


Members and organization

The Marine Band generally recruits experienced musicians; members are selected through a rigorous audition procedure and must satisfy additional security and physical requirements to be eligible. Selected band members serve under a four-year contract as active duty enlisted Marines and are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and physical standards. They are the only members of the U.S. Armed Services not required to undergo recruit training, do not perform combat missions and are not assigned to any unit other than the Band.

The band members start at the rank of Staff Sergeant (a non-commissioned officer rank normally achieved after 10 to 13 years in service), and wear rank insignia with a lyre replacing the normal crossed rifles. Commissioned officers are drawn from the band, although drum majors are career Marines and are selected from Fleet Marine Force bands, as they are responsible for the military development of the band's members.


The Marine Band's performance schedule is coordinated by the Marine Band Branch of Headquarters Marine Corps Public Affairs, which works with the Director of the Marine Band and the Marine Band Operations Office to schedule performances and ceremonies by the band, chamber orchestra, and chamber ensembles.

The Marine Band also has a professional support staff (Library, Recording Lab, Stage Managers, and Stage Crew) as well as the Administration, Public Affairs, and Supply offices, who work to coordinate, promote, and facilitate performances throughout the year.

A 42-piece Marine Band is used for all Pentagon and formal military arrivals and patriotic openers for large events. Patriotic openers are 15 minutes of patriotic music, including the presentation and retirement of the colors, the "The Star-Spangled Banner" (national anthem), and the "Marines' Hymn." Patriotic openers are performed throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area at a variety of events for military organizations, federal agencies, and associations.

Events that the Marine Band participates in include:

  • United States presidential inaugurations. The Marine Band has participated in every presidential inauguration since Thomas Jefferson's in 1801. The inauguration includes a swearing-in ceremony and a parade, as well as other smaller celebrations and festivities throughout the afternoon and evening. The Marine Band is positioned at the United States Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony and a 99-piece band marches in the parade. The band also performs for celebrations following the official ceremony and parade. Celebrations are typically divided by state and held at hotels and in large public spaces throughout Washington.
  • State Arrival Ceremonies. The Marine Band performs during a State Arrival Ceremony at the White House, an event which welcomes a visiting head of state to the United States and begins a state visit. The United States Marine Band is located on the balcony of the South Portico, just outside the Blue Room. Following the ceremony, the Marine Band performs in the Cross Hall during the receiving line and reception.
  • Other White House events. The Marine Band sometimes performs at additional White House events, such as state dinners and formal receptions.
  • Arlington National Cemetery military funerals. The Marine Band participates in every full honors military funeral for a deceased Marine at Arlington National Cemetery. During the funeral ceremony, the Marine Band performs chorales and hymns on every occasion that the deceased is transferred or moved. When the escorts and funeral procession move the deceased from a chapel or transfer site to the final resting place, a drum cadence and funeral marches are performed. "Marines' Hymn" is performed for the final transfer of the deceased onto the resting site. Following this, the deceased receives final honors and three volleys, and a lone bugler from the Marine Band performs "Taps." At the conclusion of the funeral ceremony, an American flag is folded and presented to the family of the deceased, during which the Marine Band performs "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," the Navy hymn.
  • Friday Evening Parades are held at Marine Barracks Washington during Friday evenings in summer (May through August). These 75-minute performances of music and precision marching, features the Marine Band along with the Drum and Bugle Corps, and the Silent Drill Platoon. The ceremony begins at 8:45 p.m., with a concert by the Marine Band.


The early leadership of the Marine Band consisted of both a drum major and a fife major, who wore identical uniforms. The drum major was considered the Leader of the Marine Band, while the fife major's responsibility was to train the fifers. The first leader of the United States Marine Band was William Farr, who is listed in historical records as having served as drum major from January 21, 1799.

After the retirement of Drum Major Raphael Triay in 1855, then-Fife Major Francis Scala became Drum Major. On July 25, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress to reorganize the Marine Band. This act abolished the rank of fife major (and in 1881 the fife was removed from Marine Corps instrumentation entirely), created the positions of Leader of the Band/Principal Musician, Drum Major, and authorized 30 musicians. Scala was the first Marine Band musician to receive the title "Leader of the Band"; John Roach was selected as Drum Major.

The earliest recorded Second Leader of the United States Marine Band was Salvador Petrola. Marine Band cornetist Walter F. Smith, who performed under 17th director, John Philip Sousa, became the first official Second Leader when an Act of Congress established the positions of First Leader and Second Leader of the Marine Band in March 1899.

During the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, the titles First Leader and Second Leader were replaced by Director and Assistant Director. When Albert F. Schoepper was appointed as Director in 1955, a second Assistant Director was added to the Marine Band leadership. Today, the Assistant Director positions are designated in two titles: Senior Assistant Director and Executive Officer, and Assistant Director.

Today, the Drum Major serves as the senior enlisted member of "The President's Own" and is responsible for the band's appearance, ceremonial drill, and military decorum. He is charged with directing the band in ceremonies, including the inaugural parade, and regularly leads the band in review for Presidents and visiting heads of state and other dignitaries.

The Drum Major's uniform is unique; he wears a bearskin headpiece and carries a mace used to signal commands to the musicians. The Drum Major also wears the officer's version of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (the Marine Corps emblem). He also wears an ornate sash (baldric) embroidered with the band's crest and the Marine Corps' battle honors, as well as miniatures of his own medals.


Thomas Powell Knox joined the Marine Band in 1961 as a trumpet player and moved to the arranging staff in 1966. Three years later, Knox was appointed chief arranger and continued to compose and arrange for the Marine Band until his retirement in 1985. Some of his more notable compositions include "God of Our Fathers" (commissioned for Ronald Reagan's first inauguration) and "American Pageant," which was commissioned for Richard Nixon's first inauguration. Knox arranged or composed over 300 pieces, many of which are still played by the Marine Band and other bands across America.


Comrades of the Legion
John Philip Sousa's march "Comrades of the Legion" (1920), from "The President's Own" United States Marine Band's album "Semper Fidelis": Music of John Philip Sousa; Colonel John R. Bourgeois, Director

See also


  • Abbott James A., and Elaine M. Rice. Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1998. ISBN 0-442-02532-7.
  • Clinton, Hillary Rodham. An Invitation to the White House: At Home with History. Simon & Schuster: 2000. ISBN 0-684-85799-5.
  • Garrett, Wendell. Our Changing White House. Northeastern University Press: 1995. ISBN 1-55553-222-5.
  • Ressler, D. Michael. "Historical Perspective on 'The President's Own' United States Marine Band." Defense Dept., Navy, Marine Corps, History and Museums Division, 1998. Government Printing Office Stock Number 008-055-00213-3. ISBN 0-16-049644-6.

External links



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