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Shennette Garrett-Scott

carnival performer, snake handler, and blues musician was born in Augusta Georgia Her parents names and occupations are not recorded Her mother passed away when she was eleven years old By age fourteen she had run away from home and was performing in the chorus lines of traveling minstrel shows and carnivals She changed her last name to Brown to escape notice by her family and went on to do other types of entertainment in carnivals from lying on beds of nails to swallowing swords At age twenty one she learned to play the piano she took up the guitar in her mid thirties After singing and playing the piano in a band at carnivals she sometimes performed striptease dances in after hours racially segregated shows on Fridays and Saturdays known as the Midnight Ramble because they took place after midnight in the show tent long after ...

Article

Douglas Fleming Roosa

stunt parachutist, was born Willie Jones in either Memphis, Tennessee, or Mississippi to Rebecca Lang of Memphis. Nothing is known about his father or Willie's education. Little is known about Jones's early life, but published reports suggest he began to fly in his teens. Conflicting stories describe his first airborne stunts. According to the Chicago Defender, Jones joined the Orange Flying Circus in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923, whereas an article published in Ebony magazine reports that Jones began to fly in Saint Louis at the age of fifteen and walked his first wing in 1927 at a Missouri county fair Whatever the truth all accounts agree that Jones took to flying right away exhibiting the fearlessness that all the early stunt flyers had to have to do risky tricks with no safety equipment in the rickety wood canvas and wire World War I surplus Jenny ...

Article

Clifford Edward Watkins

circus minstrel, vaudeville bandleader, soloist, and entrepreneur, was born Perry George Lowery in Topeka, Kansas, the youngest of eight children of Rachel (Tucker) and Andrew Lowery. “P. G.,” as he was known, was so proficient on the cornet that he was called the “World's Greatest Colored Cornet Soloist” by his teacher, Boston Conservatory Professor H. C. Brown (Indianapolis Freeman, 22 Feb. 1896).

During Reconstruction land promoters led wagon trains of newly emancipated black citizens to settle the recently opened former Indian Territory The Lowery family was among these and settled in Reece near Eureka Kansas on a 180 acre plot on Spring Creek in Greenwood County Soon after their arrival the Lowery family who were singers and instrumentalists organized the Star of the West Brass Band which became popular in the area How P G learned to play the cornet so well ...

Article

Eric Gardner

also known as “Millie-Christine,” entertainers, were conjoined twins born to an enslaved couple named Jacob and Monemia, who were owned by Jabez McKay, a Columbus County, North Carolina, blacksmith. The twins quickly became a local sensation in the wake of the success of the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker (conjoined twins made famous by showman and entrepreneur P. T. Barnum) and the growth of the national circus movement. Before the McKoy twins were a year old, McKay and his partner John C. Pervis arranged for them to be exhibited throughout the area; soon after, their career was taken over by a manager named Brower, and they were sold to North Carolina businessman Joseph Pearson Smith. By this point, though, Brower, who was in possession of the young girls, had been swindled and the girls were stolen away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, in 1854 ...

Article

Barry Kernfeld

blues singer, was born Elizabeth Mary Landreaux Miles in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of J.-C. Miles, whose occupation is unknown. Her mother was a singer, whose name is unknown (Landreaux, presumably). Lizzie's stepbrothers were the trumpeter Herb Morand, who at some point during the 1920s played in New York in a band accompanying Lizzie, and the drummer Maurice Morand. Lizzie first sang in church at age five. She also sang in school before dropping out to perform at parties and dances. From 1909 to 1911 she sang with the cornetist King Oliver, the trombonist Kid Ory, the trumpeter Bunk Johnson, and the violinist Armand John Piron at numerous venues in New Orleans. Around this time she married; no other details are known. Her second marriage was to August Pajaud; again, details are unknown.

Miles toured southern theaters as a member ...

Article

Elliott S. Hurwitt

dancer and comedian, was born in Prescott, Arkansas, the son of George Thompson, whose father, Aaron Thompson, was a local white doctor. Thompson's mother, Hannah Pandora Driver, was six years older than his father and came from a large family that “populated that whole community,” as Thompson would later recall (Helen Armstead-Johnson Collection). The four Driver brothers, including Thompson's maternal grandfather, owned their farms. Several of the Driver girls became schoolteachers in the area, and a Driver cousin of Thompson's was nominated for a bishopric in the 1960s.

Although his family was upwardly mobile Thompson himself had only a rudimentary education men in the family were expected to work as farmers and laborers When Thompson was seven years of age his mother died after this tragic loss life at home was not pleasant for Thompson His father remarried repeatedly and Thompson had numerous half brothers and ...