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Sousa Conductor's Baton | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Sousa Conductor's Baton

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Sousa Conductor's Baton | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeConductor's baton presented to Marquette University by John Philip Sousa

Conductor's baton, 1924

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1980.228.12

EnlargeDetail of the baton's handle

Detail of the baton's handle

Detail image of the baton’s handle. It is unknown who inscribed the baton or whether it was inscribed before or after presentation to Marquette University. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1980.228.12

Enlarge"The Marquette University March"

"The Marquette University March", 1924

Cover of “The Marquette University March” by John Philip Sousa. Source: Image courtesy of Marquette University Archives

EnlargeThe Marquette University band

The Marquette University band, c. 1925

The Marquette University band, c. 1925. Source: Image courtesy of Marquette University Archives

Conductor's baton presented to Marquette University by John Philip Sousa in 1924.
(Museum object #1980.228.12)

Renowned conductor and composer John Philip Sousa presented this wooden baton to Harold J. Homann, assistant director of the Marquette University band, during a 1924 visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sousa and his band performed in Milwaukee numerous times, but this visit was special for Marquette.

The story began one year earlier on November 16, 1923, when the university awarded Sousa an honorary doctorate in music. According to Marquette's yearbook, "The Hilltop," the entire university was present at the convocation held at the school's gymnasium. Sousa graciously accepted the degree with kind words of thanks. The Marquette band performed some of Sousa's famous pieces, and later some members of the band were the guests of the Sousa band at their Milwaukee concert.

In gratitude for the award, Sousa pledged to write a march for the school. He completed his "Marquette University March" during the year and presented it and this baton during his return trip to Milwaukee on November 8, 1924. Homann, the baton's recipient, donated it to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1980 along with a 1932 article from his then hometown newspaper (Alton, Illinois). The article details how Homann led the school band as they met Sousa at the train station in Milwaukee. Sousa then led the band in playing their new school march and presented the baton following the performance.

Other accounts note that the march premiered at a concert at the Milwaukee Auditorium on the night of November 8th during a performance by the Sousa and Marquette bands. A 1974 Milwaukee Journal article provides the recollection of former Marquette band member Louis LeMieux.

"Up until that moment," LeMieux remembered, "only the Sousa band was seated onstage, but when it was time to premiere the 'Marquette University March' a curtain was raised from behind the band to reveal the Marquette University band. Sousa then led the two bands together in the 'Marquette University March,' and followed that with his famous 'Stars and Stripes Forever.' It was an experience I'll never forget."

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), popularly known as "The March King", became one of the most famous American composers and conductors and was particularly known for military marches. The bandmaster of the United States Marine Band from 1880 to 1892, his most famous piece is "Stars and Stripes Forever."

During his career, Sousa composed 136 marches, but only seven for schools. Two of those were for Wisconsin schools: Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison ("Wisconsin, Forward Forever"). The Marquette University Archives possesses an autographed score of the "Marquette University March."

[Sources: "The Hilltop" (Marquette University yearbook, 1924); "The Milwaukee Journal", November 7, 1923 and November 23, 1974; "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", October 22, 2003.]

JEK

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Posted on June 29, 2006