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"The President's Own"


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

...continued from page five

President Richard M. Nixon was the first President of the U.S. to visit Yugoslavia. And he brought with him to Belgrade on 1 October a 13-piece orchestra from the Marine Band to provide music at a reception and "return" dinner for Yugoslavian Premier Josip Broz "Tito". This marked the first time in which members of the band played outside the United States for a State function. At the end of the evening, Nixon visited with each of the musicians and thanked them for their performance on that historic occasion.

During the directorship of Dale Harpham, who was by then a Lieutenant Colonel, Staff Sergeant Ruth Johnson, a French horn player, was the first woman to win an audition and become a member of the Marine Band on 16 May 1973. Since that time, women have become an integral part of the organization.

Musicians from the band traveled out of the country for the second time, when in July 1974 a five-piece string ensemble accompanied President Nixon to the Soviet Union. The group performed traditional chamber music during a dinner hosted by the president in Moscow. On that occasion Nixon said of the band:

"During my years of service as Vice President and President, I have never failed to be proud of this splendid musical organization. Foreign visitors have often remarked to me that they felt it was the finest organization of its kind in the world. Thomas Jefferson is remembered for the Declaration of Independence and his other contributions. One of his least known and most delightful legacies is the President's Own Band."

During the Bicentennial observances of 1976 in the administration of President Gerald R. Ford, the Marine Band, now led by Lieutenant Colonel Jack T. Kline, performed for festivities throughout the country.

The celebration culminated with the State visit of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain in July. For this occasion a larger than usual number of guests were invited. Marine ensembles of every instrumental combination were deployed throughout the White House-a full concert band on the South lawn, harp and flute in the Diplomatic Entrance, a chamber orchestra in the Grand Foyer, a show band accompanying the singing duo of “Captain and Tenille” in the East Room, and a seven-piece combo playing dance music in the State Dining Room.

The Public Broadcasting System reported the event "live" and cameras were everywhere. At some point the crowd parted to allow President Ford to escort the Queen into the dining room, where he asked her to dance to the Marine combo playing a Rodgers & Hart medley. It was not until several weeks later, when a review of the PBS tapes revealed that the Rodgers & Hart tune the combo was playing was That's Why the Lady is a Tramp. The medley was immediately removed from the dance folder.

During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, on 31 May 1979, I became the twenty-fifth director of the Marine Band and served in that position for more than seventeen years. It was also during the Carter administration that the press repeatedly reported that the President had eliminated the playing of his traditional honors, Hail to the Chief. Although President Carter did not require ceremonial music at all public events when he was away from the White House, Hail to the Chief was still performed there by the Marine Band whenever Presidential Honors were appropriate.

President Carter had an avid interest in music and often took time from his busy schedule to listen to the band's music. The musicians performed for a variety of events ranging from an outdoor performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel with soloists from the Metropolitan Opera and Richard Rodgers in attendance, to a South Lawn performance with composer-pianist Marvin Hamlisch. Following that performance President Carter told the audience, "...the only problem is that Mr Hamlisch wants to take my Marine Band back with him. He can't have them!"

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president on 20 January 1980, for the first time ceremonies were held on the west-front of the Capitol. It was a memorable occasion, and not only because of the change of venue. At precisely the same time that baritone Master Gunnery Sergeant Michael Ryan and the Marine Band were performing America the Beautiful during the inaugural program, the American hostages were released from Iran. The news flashed over television screens around the world just as a bright sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the ceremony.

The Marine Band gave its first overseas concert performance in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 26 November 1985 in celebration of the 320th birthday of The Royal Netherlands Marines. In attendance were HRH Princess Margriet, Royal Netherlands Marine Commandant Rudolphe and U.S. Marine Commandant Paul X. Kelley.

The 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty was celebrated on 4-6 July 1986 in New York City. The festivities included the Parade of Tall Ships, reviewed by President Reagan aboard the USS Iowa , while the Marine Band played musical selections from each country participating in the event. On the evening of the Fourth a mammoth fireworks display was choreographed to music played by the band from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. The celebration culminated with a joint-concert of the New York Philharmonic and the Marine Band played for a live audience of a million people in Central Park and televised around the world to millions more.

On 11-14 November 1986 the band traveled to Dublin and U.S. Ambassador Margaret Heckler arranged for a gala performance at Dublin's National Concert Hall. The concert, at which the Marine Band performed a program of Irish and American music was attended by the president of Ireland, Patrick Hillary, the lord mayor of Dublin, and commandant of the Marine Corps, Boston-Irishman General P. X. Kelley.

The Marine Band was the featured concert band of the 11th International Band Music Festival in Hamar, Norway from 29 June through 5 July 1989. In addition to concerts in Hamar, and the rural countryside, the band played for the U.S. ambassador and the American community at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo on Independence Day.

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