Sousa in Minneapolis

A Minneapolis connection for the composer of the Independence Day soundtrack: John Philip Sousa

As we settle in to the Independence Day holiday, one of the things that happens is that we hear all of the John Philip Sousa marches on the playlist. While his most popular marches like The Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis, or The Washington Post get played a lot, there’s an obscure march of his that has a uniquely Minneapolis connection.

In 1929, at the opening of his eponymous tower in downtown Minneapolis, the businessman Wilbur Burton Foshay (1881-1957) commissioned a march from Sousa, called the “Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March.” At 447 or 607 feet tall, depending if you count an antenna on top of the building, the Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis from its 1929 opening until the nearby IDS Center surpassed it 43 years later. The building was built not only because Foshay had money, but it was to pronounce to the world that Foshay had money. (Most things built in this time did that.)

The run of good luck for Foshay was short-lived: Six weeks after the opening of the building, Foshay’s company was thrown into receivership. The $20,000 check to Sousa bounced, and Sousa ordered that the march penned for this occasion was never to be played until the debt was settled up. In 1932, Foshay was convicted of running a pyramid scheme with shares of his own stock, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Even in marching band circles, few knew of this mysterious 135th Sousa march.

It wasn’t until 1988 when a group of Minnesotans paid Foshay’s debt to the Sousa estate, allowing the Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March to be played again.