Visitors to the Sousa Archives often ask me how John Philip Sousa’s original and published music found its way to the University of Illinois.
I tell folks Mr. Sousa was born and raised in Washington, D.C., he was never an Illinois student and he spent his career living in Philadelphia, Washington and New York. The closest to living in Illinois was his short residence in Chicago as director of the Great Lakes Naval Battalion Band during World War I.
Austin Harding, the university’s first director of bands and a close professional colleague of Sousa, convinced Sousa that the best way to keep his legacy alive was to have a band equal to the Sousa Band continue to play his music under the direction of a band leader who fully understood it.
When Sousa died in March 1932, 39 trunks and two boxes of music from his performance library shipped to the university’s band department in August of that year, and the Sousa Archives was created.
The Sousa Music Library and Museum promoted America’s wind-band performance practices through the active performance of Sousa’s and other bandleaders’ music.
In 1959, Harding realized his vision with the completion of the university’s and the country’s first state-of-the-art band facility, which we know today as the Harding Band Building.
In 1993, the responsibility for the Sousa Music Library passed to the campus’ University Archives. The library was renamed the Sousa Archives for Band Research, and Phyllis Danner, the department’s band librarian, became its first director. Phyllis’ lasting contributions to the collection were a major NEH preservation grant project to microfilm all of the Sousa music, and her collection guide, “Sousa at Illinois,” published posthumously by the University of Illinois Press in 2005.
In September 2003, I left the Smithsonian Institution and became the second director of the Sousa Archives. The following month, we renamed it the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, focusing more broadly on the preservation of wind band, electronic music and transcultural performance practices in America.
In 2013, we added the local Urbana-Champaign music scene to our preservation mission.
Today, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music is one of the University Library’s five archives and special collections. Our mission supports the research, education and public engagement goals at Illinois, and our community-centered engagement initiatives continually seek to use materials from the Sousa Archives’ collections to enhance the lifelong learning of all Illinois residents.
Each November, the center celebrates American Music Month with lectures, performances, exhibitions and public school programs highlighting different aspects of America’s diverse music heritage. These have included a Sousa Band re-creation concert in 2004, two Illinois Chautauqua concerts using the Smithsonian Institution’s decorated Stradivari string instruments in 2006 and improvisation concerts and dance performances using the center’s Sal-Mar Construction in 2011 and 2012.
This year’s American Music Month celebration kicked off on Oct. 26 with the center’s sponsorship of the Folk and Roots Festival children’s programming. Our programming continues with the opening of the exhibition “Bohumir Kryl and the Women’s Symphony Orchestra: Mementos from and Orchestra Member” on Monday.
This exhibit focuses on Illinois music educator Anna Fay Herron’s experiences performing with this ensemble between 1943 and 1944.
In December, the center’s final 2019 exhibit, “Singing the Temperance Blues,” will open to highlight America’s diverse musical responses to the 18th Amendment.
For further information about these new exhibits, upcoming music performances and lectures, and guided tours of the center’s collections, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-333-4577. The Sousa Archives is free and open between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend tours can be arranged with advance notice.