[NARRATOR:] The traveling circus brought in thousands of visitors To witness acrobats, Contortionists, And tightrope walkers Perform under the big top. But one of the biggest draws to the circus was the music. All-black bands were a common side show attraction. And one of the most well-known band leaders and cornetists who worked for the circus was P.G. Lowery. [SAKINA HUGHES:] P.G. Lowery is born in 1869, And he grows up in a musical family. As a young man, he goes to the Boston Conservatory of Music. [NARRATOR:] By 1898, Lowery had finished his training at the conservatory And quickly jumped into circus life, Unlike many of his African American peers. [HUGHES:] At one point, P.G. Lowery says, “You know, sometimes people say that” “The circus is a bad place for us” “But for equal treatment and for sure pay,” “Give me the circus.” [ERIK JACKSON:] America has had a funny relationship With African American music. With the coming of emancipation There were a number of black minstrel troupes That began to travel. It became a chance for people to get their first glimpses Of what the music of black folks sounded like. They could make this hot music That was popular with the people as they traveled. I think that is also why circuses wanted to include black musicians. [MATTHEW WHITTMANN:] 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. [JACKSON:] The music that was to become known as jazz, It was often called ragtime. If you were “ragging”, you were improvising. And because blues was an essential part of the music, There was only a thin line between those styles of music. [NARRATOR:] African American ragtime and jazz musicians Were able to integrate these new styles of music Into American popular culture. [JACKSON:] Dance was always the most popular form of entertainment On this continent. There were people who liked the music. Many of them of course didn’t like the musicians. [HUGHES:] P.G. Lowery set the stage, so to speak. We think about the early 20th century jazz
musicians But the circus musicians were coming a generation before And they really did spread this African-American music To anybody and everybody that came to the sideshow.