King Cotton

About this work

Written the year before Sousa's most famous work, Stars and Stripes, the King Cotton march was premiered by the composer and his band in Atlanta, in 1895, at the Cotton States and International Exposition. Their many performances over a three-week period there converted what might have been financial catastrophe for the exposition's organizers to a considerable commercial success. The King Cotton march itself has gone on to become one of Sousa's most popular pieces.

It opens with one of those catchy Sousa tunes, its bounce and effervescence uniting with the colorful instrumentation to impart a mood of playful festivity. Gradually, as would be typical in many later works -- most notably in Stars and Stripes and Invincible Eagle -- the theme, and indeed the whole character of the music, turns more muscular, more dramatic in the latter half. While King Cotton does not quite reach for the heroism associated with the famous marches cited above, it nevertheless achieves a festive grandeur and joy that make it irresistible to band music enthusiasts. The theme itself is very similar to the one in Sousa's 1893 Liberty Bell march, used as the main theme to the once-popular British television comedy show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. In any event, the King Cotton march is rightly considered one of Sousa's finest band compositions.