The Tabernacle Choir Blog

The Story Behind “The Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa

“The Washington Post March” is one of the most popular marches in the United States and many other parts of the world. John Philip Sousa, who was the United States Marine Band Director, composed it in 1889 at the request of the Washington Post newspaper for an awards ceremony. The ceremony, which took place on June 15, 1889, honored 11 winners of the newspaper's Amateur Author essay contest and was held in front of 25,000 people assembled on the grounds of the Smithsonian.

After its premiere performance, “The Washington Post March” was quickly identified with a new dance called the two-step and became the most popular tune in America and Europe. A British journalist named Sousa "The March King,” a title that became forever attached to the composer.

The famous march has been featured in numerous films, including Captain America: The First Avenger. The 1985 movie Back to the Future also features the march—during the film's “Save the clock tower” scene, a campaign van drives by playing “The Washington Post March,” while a male voice announces, “Re-elect Mayor Goldie Wilson; progress is his middle name.” (Incidentally, did you know that today is Back to the Future day? In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, the film's main characters travel in a time machine from 1985 to October 21, 2015. This date has become known as Back to the Future Day.)

Watch Tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth play “The Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa, arranged by Joseph Linger. This performance was recorded during broadcast 4,339 of Music & the Spoken Word, which aired November 11, 2012.