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The David Blakely Family-John Philip Sousa Saga

Sousa Band pictured in October 1893 during the St. Louis Exposition and David Blakely c. 1893-1996. Photographs from the Paul E. Bierley Papers.

While serving as the director of the U. S. Marine Band between 1880 and 1892 John Philip Sousa’s reputation both as a composer and band leader blossomed.  His military ensemble’s concerts that were given in the Washington-Philadelphia-Richmond region earned the March King high marks from local music critics and by early 1890 Sousa longed for the opportunity to travel the country with his own civilian band in the same fashion as Patrick Gilmore.  Under David Blakely’s recommendation Mr. Sousa asked and was given permission by President Benjamin Harrison to take the Marine Band on a five-week tour of the eastern U.S. between April and May 1891.  The following year Sousa was able to gain permission to take his military band on a seven-week tour of the West Coast.  As the Marine Band was returning to DC from its second tour, Sousa signed a contract with Blakely to form his own civilian band.  Between 1892 and 1896 Sousa’s reputation as a band leader and his yearly earnings continued to grow under Blakely’s management which made both men quite prosperous.  However, after Blakely’s sudden death the Blakely Family’s decision to take over the management of Sousa and his band turned a once productive business relationship that was carefully developed by the two men into a lengthy legal battle that initially cost Sousa his original music library and the family a substantial source of income.  To learn more about the challenges Sousa faced when working with David Blakely’s family listen to the full broadcast, Episode 1.7 — Death and Taxes, by visiting https://www.bands.illinois.edu/episodes/ which was aired on April 17th for the University of Illinois Bands monthly Podcasts about America’s and the University’s unique band heritage.

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