Ripon has hosted events for a number of prominent visitors including politicians, writers, movie stars, singers, educators and more.
One of the highlights over 90 years later is the reception and events organized by the city for Lieutenant Commander John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) and his famous band, who were on his annual tour of America.
Ripon has always had a love for music demonstrated by his commitment to school orchestra programs at the high school and college levels, as well as private music lessons and studies influenced by the Zobel family, who were local musicians and instructors. .
Nationally, Sousa’s music organization paid its own expenses each season by selling tickets during the tour to cover its expenses. The concerts cost $ 2,000 per performance, which works out to $ 31,996.14 per year in 2021.
Why was Sousa so popular? His patriotism and his love of music became cries of rallying and support for the military and citizens.
His first influences began in his hometown of Washington, DC, where his parents enrolled him in music lessons.
He studied violin, piano, transverse flute, several brass instruments and singing. His father enrolled him as an apprentice in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 13 (his enlistment listed as a “boy”).
Later, with the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was awarded his war commission and the title of “lieutenant commander” to the Illinois Naval Reserve Band.
Given his background in military music and marching band, Sousa also worked with a musical instrument maker to design and create a brass instrument named “Sousaphone”.
It is basically a tuba that carried its sound up and over the whole group for sheet music sitting and walking.
Ripon prepared for Sousa, her group and soloist Miss Marjorie Moody (1884-1980), a soprano, to perform on September 24, 1928.
Moody was known as one of the many songbirds of the Sousa Band. Lewis G. Kellogg (1856-1943), then mayor of Ripon, proclaimed the date of the concert as “Sousa Day in Ripon” and urged all traders and businesses in the community to display the national colors of red, white and blue.
Two concerts were scheduled with everyone in town encouraged to attend at least one, with an official request to offer a “Ripon Welcome and a rousing standing ovation”.
Excitement over the band’s leader, soprano singer and band members along with their gear arrived in Ripon by special train from Chicago at 1:45 p.m.
A busy day was expected as the band was whisked away to perform at the Ripon Auditorium (which was located in the downtown block where Hamilton’s Ladies Apparel now operates). To show their support, the Ripon High School Marching Band donned their formal uniforms and marched to the train depot.
The group started playing a Sousa march as soon as the train appeared. The Ripon High School group also led a march down the main street with Sousa accompanying them in an automobile.
After the morning concert, Sousa returned to the Grand View Hotel in Ripon (this building was located on the site of the current Town Hall and was destroyed by fire in 1949). Sousa dined with members of Ripon Rotary and the Kiwanis Club, gave a speech and later, with his group, gave a concert in the evening.
During his career, Sousa composed 70 songs, including 11 waltzes, 12 dances and 11 musical suites, among other ensemble numbers. In addition, he composed 136 marches, the most notable of which was “Stars & Stripes Forever”, also known as the “National March of the United States of America”.
He has played in many presidential inaugurations.
He married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (1862-1944) and had three children.
Jane was a descendant of participants in the American Revolutionary War. Sousa, his wife and all their children are buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC
In addition to Sousa’s many honors, a World War II Liberty Ship – the SS John Philip Sousa – was named after and dedicated to him.
The Ripon Historical Society is the oldest operating historical society in Wisconsin. It is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, follow us on Facebook / riponhistory or www.riponhistory.org.