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"The President's Own"


A History of the United States Marine Band by Col. John R. Bourgeois (Ret)

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At the groundbreaking of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on 4 July 1828, Marine Band leader John Cuvillier saluted the entrance of President John Quincy Adams with Hail to the Chief. This was the first use of this music to announce the arrival of a president. The National Intelligencer reported the event and added "...airs from the Marine Band lightened the toil."

Marine Band appearances grew routine with succeeding presidents. The band performed for President Andrew Jackson on 4 March 1829 in the first inaugural ceremonies to be held on the Capitol Steps. Later that day the band played Jackson's favorite air Auld Lang Syne in the presence of his fourteen-hundred pound "Mammoth Cheese," outdoing Thomas Jefferson's seven-hundred-fifty pound "Great Cheese" of 1802.

Under the direction of Raphael Triay, the band played for the inauguration of the former Governor of the Indiana territory, William Henry Harrison, on 4 March 1841. The ceremonies were held in brutally cold weather; and as a result President Harrison became ill from exposure and expired a month to the day of his inauguration. On 7 April the Marine Band led the late President's funeral cortege through the streets of the capital.

On 7 January 1845 President John Tyler directed that the Marine Band, then under the leadership of Joseph Lucchesi, play public concerts on the grounds of the Capitol on Saturday afternoons. That soon became a tradition that continues to this day.

During the administration of President James K. Polk, the strength of the Marine Corps was doubled; and the band under the direction of Antonio Pons, was increased to fifty-five drummers and fifers.

The Marine Band played for the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument on 4 July 1848. Earlier that day, a wagon hauling the 24,500 pound stone of Maryland marble broke through the bridge over the city canal on the way to the site. Civilian workers at the Navy Yard volunteered to spend their lunch hour rescuing the stone, and the band urged them on with spirited melodies.

Francis Scala became the director of the band in the administration of President James Buchanan. His Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey wrote the following to Colonel Commandant John Harris on 23 April 1860:

"Be pleased to direct the Marine Band to perform, until further orders, at the President's grounds every Wednesday afternoon and at the Capitol grounds every Saturday afternoon from 5 o'clock until sun-set, commencing on Wednesday next the 25th instant."

During the Civil War, President Lincoln insisted that the band continue its outdoor concerts on the White House grounds. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles' diary of 6 June 1862 gives a first hand account of official and social life in the Capital during the war years; he wrote:

"Spoke to the President regarding weekly performances of the Marine Band. It has been customary for them to play in the public grounds of the Mansion once a week in summer, for many years. Last year it was intermitted, because Mrs. Lincoln objected in consequence of the death of her son. There was grumbling and discontent, and there will be more if the public are denied the privilege for private reasons. The public will not sympathize in sorrows which are obtrusive and assigned as a reason for depriving them of enjoyments to which they have become accustomed, and it is a mistake. The President said Mrs. Lincoln would not consent, certainly not until after the 4th of July. I stated the case pretty frankly, although the subject is delicate, and suggested that the Band could play in Lafayette Square. The President told me to do what I thought best."
Marine Band concerts continued, but in Lafayette Square across from the White House.

While Lincoln had no formal musical background, he had a deep love for popular music. He especially enjoyed ballads and political songs honoring Jackson and Adams. However, in 1860, while attending a minstrel show in Chicago, he heard Dixie for the first time, and it immediately became his favorite song. On 9 April 1865, after the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the Marine Band and a great, exuberant crowd assembled on the White House lawn and called repeatedly for the president. He appeared on the balcony and addressed the crowd, ending his remarks by commanding the band to play Dixie because, he said, "now it belongs to the nation." This jubilation turned to somber mourning eleven days later and the band led the funeral cortege of the assassinated president.

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