P.G. Lowery’s Band & Minstrels
Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus
Dalbey Photo / Richmond, Indiana / 1920s
Real Photo Postcard, 3 1/2" x 5 1/2", Collection of Old Hat Records
Although African-American musicians played an important role in American circuses for many decades, they are seldom discussed in circus histories. Due to racial discrimination, these black bands were barred from the big top itself, and relegated to the sideshow annex. A new book by Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Ragged But Right, finally offers an in-depth study of the subject:
“For decades, practically every big circus on the road had a black band and minstrel company attached to its sideshow, performing on the streets and inside the sideshow tent before people of all races, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the southern reaches of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. During the 1910s, these companies constituted a significant pathway for the dissemination of ragtime, blues, and jazz.”
Among African-American bandmasters, few could rival the talent and influence of Perry George Lowery. Born in Kansas in 1870, Lowery studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and earned the title “World’s Greatest Colored Cornet Soloist.” Over his long career in minstrel shows, circuses and vaudeville, Lowery trained and employed hundreds of musicians and helped create opportunities for countless black entertainers.
P.G. Lowery led the Ringling Brothers sideshow band from 1920-1923, and again from 1926-1931. In this photo postcard Lowery is seated front center, baton in hand. These postcards may have been sold at the sideshow annex for a few pennies, or given away for purposes of advertising.