Cover image for Showman : the life and music of Perry George Lowery
Showman : the life and music of Perry George Lowery
Watkins, Clifford E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2003]

Physical Description:
xix, 165 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
The Flint Hills settlers -- Going on the road -- Lowery's progressive musical enterprise -- To him who hustles -- The finale of the Golden Age -- The aftershow.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML419.L69 W38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
ML419.L69 W38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room-Reference-Music

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Long before the recognized birth of ragtime and jazz such hard-working travelers as Perry George Lowery blew their horns and led their bands throughout America, shaping the sound of modern music while performing in cities and towns across the nation.

An exhausting on-the-road life caused Lowery's name to fade from music history. Even after dazzling America as a marquee soloist and the leader of minstrel and circus bands, Lowery (1870-1942) ended up in an unmarked grave in Cleveland, Ohio.

This biography, the only book-length study of this groundbreaking African American cornet player, resurrects his name. It is the story of a quiet maverick who became the standard that shook American music.

Lowery came from hardscrabble black settlers in Kansas. His family created an environment in which he could develop his musical talent. His life follows the evolution of American music via the circus, minstrelsy, and the vaudeville stage. From 1895 through 1942, he made his name not only as a musician but also as an author, columnist, teacher, showman, and entrepreneur. H. C. Brown of the Boston Conservatory called him the "World's Greatest Colored Cornet Soloist."

A road-weary show veteran, Lowery landed a spot in the Ringling Brothers Sideshow Band at the height of the golden age of circuses.

At a time when the nation slammed the doors on African American travel and opportunity, his work with the Ringling Brothers changed the music scene. By 1910, as a result of his performances, there were fourteen circus acts that employed African American bands.

Clifford Edward Watkins is professor of music at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. His work has been published in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and Feel the Spirit: Studies in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American Music .

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Literature on African American musical life was virtually nonexistent just a few decades ago. Various studies began to appear on figures already within the restricted canon and on persons certainly of major significance--William Grant Still, Paul Robeson, Harry Burleigh, John Coltrane, Marian Anderson. Readers were left with the impression that others were of secondary importance. That notion is dispelled by this biography of a man who contributed to a period that saw the flourishing of young talents in the history of bands, musical theater, music education, journalism, fairs and expositions, vaudeville, ragtime, and especially the circus. Born in Kansas, Lowery (?1870-1942) participated in each of these, to the extent permitted by restrictions of the times. Watkins is the first to tell his life story, with careful documentation but in a flowing and captivating style. From his ranks emerged Charlie Creath, Wilbur Sweatman, Bunk Johnson, and others remembered in jazz history. This biography is a fine exemplar of dedicated research on a significant, almost forgotten figure. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above. D.-R. de Lerma Lawrence University

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Prologuep. xvii
The Flint Hills Settlersp. 3
Going on the Roadp. 13
Lowery's Progressive Musical Enterprisep. 45
To Him Who Hustlesp. 79
The Finale of the Golden Agep. 119
The Aftershowp. 130
Epiloguep. 137
Notesp. 139
Bibliographyp. 151
Indexp. 157