Stars & Stripes Playground

John Philip Sousa Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), also known as the "March King," enjoyed a lengthy career as a composer, bandmaster, and musician. One of ten children, Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. At the age of six he entered the Esputa Conservatory of Music where he mastered the violin. At the age of thirteen he enlisted as an apprentice in the U.S. Marine Band, of which his father was a member, and then toured with various theater orchestras in his early twenties. Sousa rejoined the U.S. Marine Band in 1880 and, over the twelve years he served as its director, greatly elevated the band’s popularity and professionalism.

After his military discharge in 1892, Sousa formed his own ensemble, touring North America annually in addition to making four European tours, making a world tour, and participating in three American Expositions. Sousa’s reputation was founded on his strong public presence and the humor, patriotism, and military spirit with which he enlivened 110,000 concerts until 1931, the year his orchestra disbanded. Sousa located his headquarters in New York, where he made his home in various hotels including the penthouse of Carnegie Hall from 1892 to 1914. His summer engagements at Manhattan Beach and Coney Island inspired musical compositions such as, "I’ve Made My Plans for the Summer" (1907), "Manhattan Beach March" (1893), and "New York Hippodrome" (1915). 300,000 visitors flocked to a performance in Prospect Park given by Sousa and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station Band in 1918, demonstrating the extent of his popularity.

Sousa’s most famous marches include "Stars and Stripes Forever" (also the name of a 1952 film about Sousa), the "Washington Post March," and "El Captain." In addition to writing over fifty songs, three novels, and an autobiography, Sousa was the inspiration for the Sousaphone, invented in the 1890s. Honors received by Sousa include the Royal Victorian Order of Great Britain, the Golden Palms and Rosette of the French Academy, military rank of Lieutenant Commander, and election to the Bronx’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1973.

John Philip Sousa’s name has graced a Baychester Avenue high school since 1959 and the nearby J.H.S. 142 playground since 1985. Jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, the playground was approved in 1955 and opened on January 12, 1961. Located at Baychester Avenue and Crawford Avenue, the playground is situated adjacent to Seton Falls Park.

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