John Philip Sousa, renowned throughout the world for his martial band music, was the first president of an organization which was a forerunner to the present Amateur Trapshooting Association. In 1916 Sousa headed the newly-founded American Amateur Trapshooting Association. His goal was to "band together the amateur shooters with bonds of common fellowship" with a certainty that "trapshooting will be advanced through the united efforts of the amateurs." The AATA was the first positive step in developing an association for, and administered by, amateurs. Sousa might well be called the father of government of the sport by amateur shooters as it exists today.
In 1917 Sousa was chairman of the National Association of Shotgun Owners. He served the AATA again as president in 1918, until it was disbanded in 1919 and absorbed by the American Trapshooting Association. The new association continued with the same goals that Sousa and his group had espoused. In 1920 he became a delegate from New York State to the new association and assisted on handicapping committees at major tournaments.
Sousa began shooting trap seriously in 1906. From that time forward he was dedicated to the sport and served it in any capacity his busy professional life as a musician and composer would allow.
In April of 1911, while on a world tour with his band, he wrote an article on trapshooting for the London Sketch which was reprinted in other countries along his route. He loved the democratic aspects of the sport, and it was in this story that he wrote, "Like love, trapshooting levels all ranks."
When asked by a reporter in Chicago while attending a Grand American Handicap what he considered life’s best gifts, he replied with the title of one of his articles that had appeared in the American Shooter: "A Horse, A Dog, A Gun, and a Girl— with Music on the Side."
Wherever John Philip Sousa traveled, his fame preceded him and he drew large crowds from a kindly press. His attendance at any shoot was usually heralded with headline publicity and, as a result, generated an increased interest in trapshooting and its contestants. He also was a frequent and popular after-dinner speaker during shooting tournaments.
While he contended that he participated in his favorite sport purely for relaxation, he was no less proud of his winning scores. In 1910 at the Southern Preliminary Handicap in Columbus, Ga., Sousa scored 95x 100 in a field of 200 competitors, numbering in the top three. Later in the year his score of 78x80 led a Vermont State main event. In July 1913 he won the Berlin Handicap at Ocean City, Md. with 94x100 at 18 yards. At Pinehurst, N.C., one of his favorite clubs, Sousa was the mainstay of the Navy team in an Army versus Navy contest in 1919. His individual score was tops for the Navy’s competing trio. A member of the Okoboji Indians, he was known to the tribe as Chief March King.
Available records indicate that he registered more than 35,000 targets during his shooting career. He was also an ardent field shooter, owning a 2,000-acre preserve in North Carolina where he pursued this recreation.
He was generous during his shooting career in donating trophies for various tournaments. Upon his death the Sousa family, in his memory, presented a trophy to be based on the first 100 targets of Monday’s race at the Grand American. The trophy, with the winner’s name inscribed thereon each year, was to remain permanently in the lobby of the Van Cleve Hotel in Dayton, 0H.
John Philip Sousa was conductor of the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 to 1892, after which he organized his own, world-renowned concert band. He was a prolific composer with more than 600 musical compositions and literary works to his credit. So stirring were his marches that he became known as the "March King." The sousaphone was designed for his band.
He was decorated by King Edward VII with the Victorian Order after his band had given private concerts for the Royal Family, both at Windsor and Sandringham Castles. He was also awarded Palms of the Academy and Officer of Public Instruction in France and given the Grand Diploma of Honor, Academy of Hainaut, in Belgium.
There is a John Philip Sousa Foundation to promote international understanding through band music plus a John Philip Sousa annual band award in competition among outstanding high school musicians. Commemorative medals have been struck in his honor, a postage stamp with his likeness was issued in 1940 in the Famous American series, and several movies based on his life have been produced.
Among the nearly-endless number of facilities named in his honor are four public schools; a bridge in Washington, D.C.; an outdoor band shell in Port Washington, N.Y., his former hometown; American Legion posts, and a World War II liberty ship. In 1916 the Ithaca Gun Company added the highest quality gun to its line, the Sousa-grade.
With contributions from the world over, a Sousa stage in the concert hall of the John F. Kennedy Center was dedicated in his memory. In August of 1976 John Philip Sousa was enshrined in the prestigious Hall of Fame for Great Americans at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
On the evening before he died in March of 1932 at age 78, he was appearing as guest conductor of the famous Ringgold Band in Reading, Pa. "The Stars and Stripes Forever," his most popular march, was the closing number in this, his final concert.
The man who inspired an unparalleled expression of patriotism among the people of a growing nation, and who spread joy around the world with his spirited and immortal music, left no less of a mark on trapshooting. His love and devotion to the game may be witnessed best in his own words: "Let me say that just about the sweetest music to me is when I call, ‘pull,’ the old gun barks, and the referee in perfect key announces, ‘dead’."