Posts Tagged ‘John Phillip Sousa banned from Ocean Grove’

John Phillip Sousa in his military uniform.

John Phillip Sousa in his military uniform. HSOG Museum.    Original post in 2013 BF. Blogfinger photo.

By Paul Goldfinger, MD,  Blogfinger.net

I was over at the Historical Society a few weeks ago, and the subject of Sousa came up. Harry Eichorn, the long-time conductor of bands in Ocean Grove, had never seen the painting of John Phillip Sousa which hangs at the HSOG museum on Pitman Avenue, so I took him there to see it.

A few of the OG history mavens were there, and the story about Sousa’s clash with the CMA came up. This article first appeared in the Ocean Grove Record, Steve Froias’ on-line publication, in 2007.  Now, six years later, we are reposting it on Blogfinger, with the author’s permission,  as part of our ongoing goal of acquainting Ocean Grove’s citizens with the town’s history.

If you want to read about the painting, here is a link to the BF article about it:    Sousa, still hanging around the Grove

John Philip Sousa Follows the Swallow to Ocean Grove 

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor  @Blogfinger

John Philip Sousa, the “March King”, was a big star in 1926. The composer/musician traveled with his band all over the world, and his music was among the first recorded, on cylinders, following the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.  He was particularly popular in Ocean Grove where he had performed concerts in the Great Auditorium during the years of 1921-1926.

But Sousa hit a wrong note here in 1926, when political incorrectness caught up with him, and he was never invited back after that.  It’s a story which has been buried in Ocean Grove history but is now being recounted in a new book written by the world’s foremost expert on Sousa.

The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa is by Dr. Paul E. Bierley, a musician and former engineer, who has been interested in his subject for 40 years. The book, published by the University of Illinois Press in July 2006, is 504 pages, but it is on page 137, in the section called “some lighter moments,” that we find out what happened to Sousa over 80 years ago in Ocean Grove.

To set the stage for Dr. Bierley’s fascinating anecdote, you should know that the founders of Ocean Grove were very strict about alcohol. They had many rules from day one, but they were especially concerned that no alcohol could be sold within a circle of one mile drawn around the town’s borders. The Methodist church was very active in the “dry movement” which had begun in the 1840’s. In 1920, Prohibition began, and by 1926, seven years before the repeal, it was becoming evident that the promise of Prohibition was failing. There was more alcohol consumed during prohibition than before, and the hoped for reduction in crime and other ills of society was not happening.

Pressure began to build to repeal Prohibition, and it is likely that the controversy was a touchy subject in the Ocean Grove of 1926. That year, the Federal Council of Churches presented a position paper during their testimony before the U.S. Senate. They pleaded for continued support of the 18th Amendment.  Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City and an outspoken critic of Prohibition also testified.  He said, “It is impossible to tell whether Prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country.” He alleged that 1,000,000 quarts of liquor were consumed each day in the United States.

The University of Illinois Press has informed The OG Record that we may reproduce this anecdote, which Dr. Bierley has entitled “Follow the Swallow:”

“Sousa and the band played numerous engagements at the old Methodist Camp Ground at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but wore out their welcome at a concert there on July 10, 1926.

“Although Methodists were staunch Prohibitionists, Sousa was featuring his latest humoresque, “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys,” on the 1926 tour and planned to play it at Ocean Grove. The comical piece poked fun at Prohibition, depicting a “wet” and a “dry” drinking tea and water while longing for the days before Prohibition. The band might have played the piece with a minimum of objection had it not been for a publicity poster fashioned in the shape of a whiskey bottle. This caught the attention of members of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, who reasoned that a performance of the piece would not be in their best interest.

“The Rev. Charles M. Boswell, the Association’s president, was indignant and urged people not to attend the concert if Sousa insisted on playing “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys.” The protest puzzled Sousa, but he agreed to play something else. Perhaps he was being contrary when he substituted another of his humoresques, “Follow the Swallow” which had nothing to do with drinking and was based on themes suggestive of a swallow’s flight from north to south.

“The Association was not amused and never again engaged Sousa. The following year, when reporters asked the Association why the band was not invited back to Ocean Grove, the reply was that it was the Association’s policy not to have the same attractions year after year. Policy or not, Sousa’s band had appeared there in successive years from 1921-1924. Whatever the reason, one of the favorite stories among former Sousa musicians concerned how their esteemed conductor, not a Prohibition supporter, lost business because of a politically incorrect decision.”

So here we are, eighty years later, and despite the unfortunate incident of 1926, Sousa’s music still lives on in Ocean Grove. He may have been banished, but his music never left, particularly through the summer appearances of the Allentown Band, which has been playing Sousa’s music here for years. The Allentown Band has 70 of Sousa’s 136 marches in their repertoire, but the favorite here has always been “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, and that rousing piece has a special excitement when it is played in the Great Auditorium with 7,000 people on their feet clapping. And how many in town keep their red white and blue “I’m a Sousa Fan” fan as a unique Ocean Grove souvenir?

Last year the US Army Band from Washington, D.C. did a spectacular version of the “Stars and Stripes” at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. It was a sight that Sousa himself would likely have loved, to see those soldiers (including quite a few women) doing his music in full dress uniforms and, especially at the end, when a row of piccolo players stepped forward to play the finale.

In Ocean Grove, the “Follow the Swallow” episode has now been told and can now be tucked away in the trivia file, but John Philip Sousa, an American icon, will remain a part of Ocean Grove’s history, past, present, and future.

JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA.   This is a lesser known Sousa march—“The Gladiator.”  (From the March Favorites album)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: