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Meet Amazing Americans Musicians & Composers John Philip Sousa
Color poster advertising a circus performance
Color poster advertising a circus performance

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The Circus or the Marine Corps?

One day, when 13-year-old John Philip Sousa was at home practicing the violin, a man knocked on his door. He could hear music from outside and was impressed. He said to Sousa, "You play very nicely. Have you ever thought about joining a circus?" The man was the leader of a circus band, and he was ready to hire Sousa on the spot. Sousa thought about it. He imagined "beautiful ladies in spangled tights" and "pink lemonade in buckets." Yes, Sousa told the man, he'd like to join the circus. But first he had to ask his father. Sousa said, "I wouldn't think of it without asking him, since he was an awfully nice father."

The man convinced Sousa that it would be best not to ask his father right away. He told Sousa to meet him the next evening when the circus people were packing up their tents. Once they had been on the road for a couple of days, Sousa could write his father and tell him how much he was enjoying the circus. By then, his father would be more likely to say yes.

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