The Italian Marine Band

Thomas Jefferson

. The group of sixteen Italian musicians didn’t know what to think. Their leader, Gaetano Carusi, had brought them to America, the land of promise. But when they arrived in Washington their first thought must have been to go back home.

The year was 1805 and Carusi himself described the capital city of the new republic as “a desert. A place containing two or three taverns and a few scattered cottages and log cabins.” The Italians were supposed to form a band to represent the United States Marines and President Thomas Jefferson. Apparently the band came with few perks. Upon their arrival the Italians were trooped off to their residence–an area in the Marine barracks where the musicians and their families–30 in all–had to bundle together in a single room and sleep on a bare floor.

Somehow they mustered their dignity for their first American performance at a banquet celebrating the victory of the American Navy over the Tripoli pirates.

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[The Italian Marine band played at other elegant events, including a reception for the Tunisian ambassador, resplendent with his long black beard, four-foot pipe and gold-embroidered coat.]

The members of the Italian Marine Band were in for a three-year hitch, but after only eighteen months all of them were dismissed from the corps. Carusi was outraged. He took legal action against the US government, claiming to have been duped into his position through false and deceitful promises and complaining that the commandant had confiscated his music. At the age of seventy-two he was still at it. He petitioned Congress for $1000 compensation and was turned down.

But Gaetano Carusi prevailed in the long run. His three sons grew up in Washington and went on to become very successful concert promoters and several of his musicians made their way back into the military where they left a lasting influence on the Marine Band.