The U.S. Marine Band can rock the East Room of the White House with the thunder of a Sousa march or soothe a diplomatic jangle with the tranquility of its strings.
It trumpets a salute to a monarch one day, plays a jig for kids rolling Easter eggs the next. It celebrates, commemorates and can quicken its tempo to speed the handshaking in a presidential receiving line.Turning 200 years old this week, the Marine Band is the oldest, continuously active musical organization in the United States. Originally just 33 drummers and fifers, it now numbers 143 musicians, nearly one-third of them women.
The band has performed at every presidential inaugural since it played for Thomas Jefferson's oath-taking on March 4, 1801. It was Jefferson who gave the band its enduring label, "The President's Own."
But it was President John Adams who signed the law that brought the band into being, on July 11, 1798. The red-coated, gold-braided band has played the musical score of democracy ever since.
The band is observing its anniversary with an exhibit at the White House Visitors Center that includes an 1890 wax cylinder recording of a Marine Band march and a turn-of-the-century uniform coat. It will also stage a bicentennial concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
John Philip Sousa, legendary leader of the band from 1880 to 1892, conducted the band into history, shaping its professionalism and writing the marches that earned him the title of "The March King."