Former Staff Sgt. Jeff Strong enlisted in the Marines specifically to join the “President's Own” United States Marine Band. After completing his service, he now plays in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to Strong about his time in the Marine Band.
The Marine Band, founded in 1798 by an act of Congress, is the oldest continually-active professional music organization in the country. Its primary purpose is to provide music for the president of the United States and commandant of the Marine Corps.
Strong’s musical influences include jazz musician Miles Davis and one of Strong’s music teachers, who also performed in the Marine Band in the late 1960s.
“I heard his recordings from when he was in the band, so it was always on my radar,” Strong said.
Strong performed numerous times at the White House and enjoyed playing for winter holiday balls, state dinners and Pentagon arrivals.
“But I think something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life was the honor that I had of playing taps in Arlington Cemetery for Marine funerals,” Strong said.
He said a special aspect of performing taps is that the attention is drawn away from the performer, which isn’t the norm in most performances.
“As a musician, when you’re performing, it is kind of about you…you’re standing in the spotlight,” he said. “But when you play taps and you’re in the uniform – nobody knows your name; nobody knows who you are.” The moment becomes about honoring the fallen soldier.
The most unusual requests he received from a U.S. president was to put together a Klezmer band, which consists of traditional Jewish music, as well as performing in a Mexican Mariachi band.
Strong worked with renowned composer John Williams, who composed music for movies including “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.” Williams also wrote music for the Marine Band. Strong said he was honored to record in Williams’ “For the President’s Own” piece.
“Whether it’s a melody or some really fast-rhythmic music, it really makes you feel something,” Strong said. “[Williams] is a master of matching what’s happening on the screen to the music.”
Strong joined the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in 2015. He said his experience in the Marine Band helped lead him to his career in St. Louis.
Listen to Strong’s interview below to hear about his time in the Marine Band.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.