Colonel John R. Bourgeois, USMC (Ret), was the twenty-fifth director of "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. His acclaimed career spanned nine presidential administrations -- from Presidents Eisenhower to Clinton.
A native of Louisiana, Colonel Bourgeois is a graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans. He joined the Marine Corps in 1956 and entered "The President's Own" in 1958 as a french horn player and arranger. Named director in 1979, Colonel Bourgeois was promoted to his present rank in 1983. He retired from active duty on 11 July 1996.
As director of "The President's Own," Colonel Bourgeois was music advisor to the White House. He selected the musical program and directed the band in its traditional place of honor at the US Capitol for four presidential inaugurations, a Marine Band tradition dating to 1801. He regularly conducted the Marine Band and the Marine Chamber Orchestra at the White House, appearing there more frequently than any other musician in the nation.
Under Colonel Bourgeois' leadership the Marine Band presented its first overseas performances in history, traveling to the Netherlands in 1985 where "The President's Own" performed with the Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy. In February 1990, Colonel Bourgeois led the Marine Band on an historic eighteen-day concert tour of the Soviet Union as part of the first US-USSR Armed Forces Band Exchange. He also directed the Marine Band on nineteen nationwide tours, bringing the music of "The President's Own" to the American people.
Colonel Bourgeois served as president and CEO of the John Philip Sousa Foundation for over twenty years, president of the American Bandmasters Association (1991), president of the National Band Association (1994-96), and the American vice president of the International Military Music Society. He served on the board of directors of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles and the Association of Concert Bands. As director of the Marine Band, Colonel Bourgeois was the music director of Washington D.C.'s prestigious Gridiron Club. He is a member of the Military Order of the Carabao, The Alfalfa Club and the College Band Directors National Association.
Among the many honors and awards Colonel Bourgeois has received are the 1986 Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Bandmaster Award and the 1987 Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Award for "contributions to the growth and developments of modern college and university bands." In 1993, he was awarded the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic Medal of Honor. Colonel Bourgeois was elected to the Academy of Wind and Percussion Artists of the National Band Association in 1988 and received the 1991 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia National Citation "for service and dedication to music and country." In 1994 he was awarded the Grainger Medallion of the International Percy Grainger society and in 1996 the A. A. Harding Award of the American School Band Directors Association.
Colonel Bourgeois conducted his final concert as director of "The President's Own" on 11 July 1996 (the band's 198th birthday), at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. More than 3,500 people, including prominent musicians and government dignitaries, attended the gala event. Presidents Clinton, Bush, Ford and Carter and Mrs. Reagan sent letters of gratitude and praise which were read at the concert. Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton hailed Bourgeois as "a national treasure" and presented him with the Distinguished Service Medal from President Clinton. Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C. Krulak compared Colonel Bourgeois to the band's seventeenth director, John Philip Sousa, saying, "Our Corps has not only had John Philip Sousa, we have also had a John Bourgeois. His legacy will never be forgotten by the Marine Corps or our nation." The concert was covered by media giants CNN, ABC, CBS, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. James Brady featured Bourgeois' profile in his "Brady's Bits" in the 7 July edition of Parade magazine. ABC's Peter Jennings selected Colonel Bourgeois as the Evening News "Person of the Week." The newscast was viewed in the Clinton's private quarters in the White House by the colonel and his family and five-year old granddaughter, Sophie. After the change of command concert, The Washington Post's chief music critic, Tim Page wrote, "Bourgeois leaves his ensemble in terrific shape; indeed, it would be hard to imagine any band playing with greater vigor, precision, and timbrel variety...Washington is very generous with its standing ovations. But Bourgeois deserved each and every one he received last night."
In August 2000 Colonel Bourgeois was named "American Man of Music" for the triennium 2000-3 by Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia National Music Fraternity. In December 2000 he was elected to the National Band Association's Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors with induction ceremonies held at Troy State University in February 2001. In March 2005 he was installed as a Lowell Mason Fellow of the Music Educators National Conference and in May he was awarded a Doctor of Music "Honoraris Causa" from Loyola University, New Orleans.
In his retirement Colonel Bourgeois stays busy as guest conductor/clinician, visiting professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, in a chair endowed in his name, and continues to produce wind band arrangements and editions for Wingert-Jones in a series known as "The Bourgeois Editions." He is also published by Ludwig Masters. He is active in his local community of Washington, Virginia, where he has served as president of the Rappahannock Historical Society and president of the board of the Child Care and Learning Center. n. In December 2011, he served as Grand Marshall of the town of Washington's Christmas Parade. Also he has authored a chapter on the history of the United States Marine Band titled, "The President's Own" in the book, The Marines.
Colonel Bourgeois was privileged to be a colleague of the late Lorin Maazel and he conducted his setting of Bach's Goldberg Variatios for the Maestro's memorial service at Castleton in November, 2014. He is director of The Castleton Festival Winds and serves on the advisory board of The Castleton Foundation.