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During the administration of President Chester Arthur, the first East Room concert for specially invited guests took place, when the famous Canadian soprano, Emma Albani, sang in 1883. A great enthusiast of opera and song, President Arthur was also deeply moved by the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ colorful melding of blues, minstrel song and European-like hymns later during his term [see more below]. The most famous White House musical personality of the Hayes through Harrison era, however, was John Philip Sousa, who served five presidents as leader of the Marine Band in the White House from 1880 to 1892. A formidable showman, Sousa was the first American-born leader of the Marine Band . He was also a composer of operettas, songs, suites and more than 100 marches represented by his immortal "Semper Fidelis" (1888) and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (1897). During his White House tenure, John Philip Sousa not only raised the Marine Band’s level of musicianship and modernized its instrumentation, but he developed a concert band repertory of almost symphonic proportions.

Landmark Era Performance - 1882: One of the most remarkable vocal programs of the century was held on February 17. The Jubilee Singers from Fisk University filled the White House with the sounds of their singing, including Safe in the Arms of Jesus, that moved President Chester Arthur to tears.

Painting of John Philip Sousa during his years as leader of the U.S. Marine Band.

Library of Congress

Footnotes & Resources

Elise Kirk, Musical Highlights from the White House, 62-67.

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