Bill Clinton photo

Remarks Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps Band

July 10, 1998

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Please be seated. Thank you so much, General Krulak. Colonel Foley, to the officials of the Pentagon, the leaders of our military services, Members of Congress, the Medal of Honor winners, and especially to the Ingram family—all of you who are here today—it's a great honor for Hillary and I to welcome you to the White House on what is not only a very important occasion for our Nation but which, as you have heard from my wife and others, is one of the most important occasions for me personally since I've been President. We're also delighted to have a number of distinguished composers in the audience, of music which has been played by our Marine Band.

And I can't let the moment go by without noticing that this is also the birthday of the wife of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Mrs. Krulak, happy birthday to you. We hope you have a great day.

On July 11, 1798, my predecessor and the first President to live in the house just behind me, John Adams, approved the bill establishing this band. As a footnote, I might also add it established the Marine Corps itself. Of course, the Marines had already been proudly serving our people, starting back in 1775.

Since its founding, the Marine Band's history has been in large measure the history of America. The band played at Thomas Jefferson's Inauguration in 1801 and hasn't missed a single one since. Jefferson was a violin player who loved music almost as much as he loved freedom. He named the band "The President's Own," and it has stuck ever since.

The Marine Band was there to play "The Marseillaise" when President John Quincy Adams, in 1825, gave the first White House toast ever, in honor of General Lafayette and his services to the American Revolution. The Marine Band was by President Abraham Lincoln's side when he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

The Marine Band were among the first musicians ever to be captured for posterity on Thomas Edison's revolutionary phonograph. The Marine Band's broadcasts were a highlight of radio's first years. The Marine Band was at MIT in 1949 to accompany Winston Churchill as he proudly sang every single word of "The Marines' Hymn." And the Marine Band led us in mourning in the funeral procession for President Kennedy.

You have played for kings and prime ministers in great halls overseas, for people in parks and theaters across our country, nearly every day, in so many different musical styles, which you've shared with us on this day. You've accompanied great artists, from Sinatra to Baryshnikov. It is entirely fitting that our Marine Band was among the very first class of inductees into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. Through long summers you play in oppressive heat, as you have today. And you're always ready to go on Inauguration Day, no matter how bitter the cold.

As time has marched on, you have commemorated changes in band leadership by the passing of a cherished symbol, a gold-tipped baton owned by your most famous conductor. John Philip Sousa was born just two blocks from the band's home at the Marine Barracks here. He was a determined young man who joined the band as an apprentice musician at the age of 13, after his father, one of the band's trombonists, had foiled his plot to run away with the circus. Thank goodness Dad succeeded.

At age 25, after 5 years of touring with orchestras and vaudeville shows, Sousa returned to become the Marine Band's director, and he served there for 12 years. But until his dying day, he never stopped conducting or promoting music education or fighting for composers' rights. Just weeks before his death, at the age of 77, Sousa rose at a gathering here in Washington to lead this band in his greatest march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

John Philip Sousa's drive, his love of innovation, his desire to thrill the crowd while taking musical excellence to new heights, that legacy still guides the United States Marine Band. That spirit still keeps your music soaring on the edge of a new century and a new millennium. No President could fail to be proud to say you are "The President's Own."

Happy birthday. Congratulations to all of you. God bless you, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:34 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Charles C. Krulak, USMC, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, and his wife, Zandra; Lt. Col. Timothy W. Foley, USMC, Director, United States Marine Band; and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Robert R. Ingram.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps Band Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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