Exclusive Clip: PBS Doc ‘The Circus’ Spotlights Pioneering Black Bandleader
A long overdue spotlight on the presence of African American jazz musicians in The Greatest Show on Earth will be part of the four-hour, two-part PBS documentary “The Circus” (premiering Oct. 8-9) 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.
This exclusive clip spotlights black bandleader P.G. Lowery, who led the first African American band to play with the Ringling Bros. and in the process spread jazz to audiences nationwide, black and white.
As noted in the clip, Lowery was considered one of the greatest cornetists of his generation in the early 1900, having trained at the prestigious Boston Conservatory. Yet his professional work was limited to circus sideshows due to racial discrimination.
Historian Matthew Wittman explains: “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. 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.