Biography -- Music -- African American Studies "
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
A road-weary show veteran, Lowery landed a spot in the Ringling
Brothers Sideshow Band at the height of the golden age of
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."
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