*The Ringling Bros. had always featured an African American side show band to entice the crowds, and in 1919 hired the best jazz band master of the time, Perry George “P.G.” Lowery. Though he was trained at the Boston Conservatory and considered one of the best cornetists of his generation, Lowery’s work never moved beyond the circus, due to racial discrimination.
PBS’ American Experience will tell Lowery’s story and the overall experience of black side show bands in “The Circus” a four-hour, two-part documentary about the rise and fall of the American traveling tented circus, from the first one-ring show at the end of the 18th century to 1956, when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big top was pulled down for the last time.
“The circus was a kind of back door into American popular culture for black musicians who didn’t have a whole lot of avenues available to them,” historian Matthew Wittman explains in the series. “It wasn’t necessarily respectable, but it was work and it was a way not just for white people to hear black music, but for black communities to connect to what was happening in Chicago, New York and this very vibrant music scene.
Written, directed and produced by Sharon Grimberg and executive produced by Mark Samels, “The Circus” premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Monday and Tuesday, October 8-9, 2018, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS.