John Philip Sousa wrote his famous march “Stars and Stripes Forever” in 1896 and it quickly became one of his most requested melodies. Although it was composed for a big brass ensemble, over the years it has become a showpiece for bands and solo instrumentalists and it has been recorded by hundreds of artists. Sousa himself wrote a set of lyrics for the march but they are almost never sung. If someone is inclined to sing along, they are more likely to use the comic lyrics that begin, “Be kind to your web-footed friends/A duck could be somebody’s mother.” Here are few of our favorite versions of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
This version by Sousa’s band on the Victor label and dates to 1911. Sousa himself didn’t care for records so he doesn’t actually appear on this recording.
In the 1940s Jesse Kalima began playing a solo version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” on ukulele. Before long learning play it became something of rite of passage for aspiring virtuosos. In this blazing version, Jake Shimabukuro shows he learned his lessons well.
Guitar players also took up the challenge. There are quite a few great versions of fingerstylists tackling the tune, but none have done it with quite the laid back charm of Chet Atkins.
Rob Wright delivers a rousing version on his plectrum banjo. Is there anything more American than playing a patriotic tune like this on the banjo?
Orin Star plays what may be the only solo mandola version of “Starts and Stripe Forever.”
The Big Mamma Sue Quartet doubles the banjo allotment and adds a tuba and a washboard for good measure.