In February 1916, John Philip Sousa’s band was in the middle of a standing engagement at the 5,200-seat Hippodrome in New York in a show called Hip! Hip! Hooray! In addition, Sousa conducted Sunday evening concerts which included appearances by guest artists such as opera singers, dancers, and comedians.
Chaplin and Sousa had met at the Hippodrome in 1915 during one of the Sunday concerts where the comedian told the celebrated conductor he wanted to conduct Sousa’s band in a performance of Franz von Suppé’s Poet and Peasant overture. At an invitation from Hippodrome general manager Charles B. Dillingham, Chaplin agreed to appear at a benefit on February 20, 1916, on two conditions—Sousa’s band would play one of his own compositions (in this case, “The Peace Patrol”) and Chaplin’s fee would go to charity, which was split between the Actors’ Fund and the Variety Artists’ Fund of England.
At the rehearsal for the overture, Sousa wrote in his autobiography, Chaplin mounted the podium, “took my baton and as the band started the stately measures of the opening, he proceeded to beat time fully four times too fast! That well-known blank expression came over his face but this time it was involuntary. ‘That isn’t it!’ he exclaimed. I smiled. ‘But I’ve played it many years,’ I reminded him. Suddenly I realized that he remembered only the allegro and had forgotten all about the moderato, so I told the band to begin again, this time with the allegro, and we were off!”
On the February 20, the night of the performance, Sousa remembered, “the audience, reading his name on the program and never having seen him in the flesh, suspected a trick—some clever impersonator of Chaplin—but, as he came from the wings, he did his inimitably funny little step and slowly proceeded to the band-platform. The house, convinced, rang with applause.”
Sousa and Chaplin remained friends, with Chaplin conducting and performing with Sousa’s 300-piece Great Lakes Naval Training Center Band to help raise money at Liberty Loan Rallies throughout the U.S. during World War I.