John Philip Sousa, the American conductor and composer who popularized the sousaphone, has a special connection to the Calgary Stampede. The Calgary Stampede Showband is playing Sousa’s “The Thunderer” (1889) as part of its concert band repertoire this year, but the connection doesn’t end there. Sousa and his band, the “Sousa Band” actually visited the Calgary in 1919 and performed at the Calgary Exhibition.

1919_tnSousa’s band toured all over the world following the end of WWI and was exceptionally popular because Sousa had combined everything he liked about other types of ensembles (brass bands, military bands, orchestras, and beer hall bands) to create something different. Photos from the Glenbow Archives show that there was a huge audience when Sousa’s band performed in Calgary. Sousa was known as the “march king” for composing and arranging patriotic marches, so it makes a lot of sense that the Showband and other marching bands continue to play his music.

The Showband performed “The Thunderer” at its annual Celebration Concert earlier this month, and will perform it again when it competes in the Alberta International Band Festival on February 21 at the Rosza Centre.

Sousa's Band performing at the 1919 Calgary Exhibition. Glenbow Archives NA-4910-14.
Sousa’s Band performing at the 1919 Calgary Exhibition. Glenbow Archives NA-4910-14.

The Sousa/Stampede connection gets even better: in 2013, the Showband was the first Canadian ensemble to be awarded the Sudler Shield award from the John Philip Sousa Foundation, which seeks to uphold the standards and ideals of John Philip Sousa. The Sudler Shield is a prestigious international award recognizing high school, youth, and international marching bands who demonstrate world class excellence. The Sousa Foundation talks about how “bands are bridges that connect the music and culture of all strata of our society”. The Showband was awarded the Sudler Shield after winning back-to-back world championships in Calgary and Japan with innovative, entertaining, and well-executed field productions. Just as audiences gathered to see Sousa’s band in 1919, Calgarians and visitors will be able to see the Showband give innovative and diverse performances at the Calgary Stampede this summer!