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Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Richard I. Schwartz

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Well-known Soloists from All Walks of Life

Perry G. Lowery

(b Topeka, KS 11 Oct c1870; d Cleveland, OH 15 Dec 1942)

His first music study was as a child in Eureka, Kansas after his family settled there. The family had a band, in which he played drums and then later the cornet. He played professionally as a young man with many bands, and in 1895, George Bailey, the famous trombone soloist, secured him a position in the band of Darkest America with the Mallory Brothers Minstrels. He remained there for one season and played next with the Wallace and Hagenbeck Circus also for one season. He then played with the Original Nashville Students. He won the Hutchinson (Kansas) Music Contest playing his cornet during this time and in 1897, he went to Boston to study with Henry C. Brown. He conducted the Richards and Pringle’s Minstrels in 1898. His abilities on the cornet were maintained at the highest level, for it is known that he performed solo cornet at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition during the summer of 1898 (Eileen Southern, "Lowery, P[erry] G.," in BDAAM). In 1899, he formed the P. G. Lowery’s Famous Concert Band and P. G. Lowery’s Vaudeville Company. He is credited with being the first African-American musician to put his own vaudeville act in a circus. Until the year of 1899, when his Vaudeville Company performed for the Forepaugh and Sells Circus held in Madison Square Garden, African-American musicians were hired only as performing members of bands. In 1900, his band played in a partnership with the W. I. Swain’s Original Nashville Students’ Concert Company. This partnership was advertised as "not a minstrel show, no parade" (The Freeman, 5 January 1900). He left this Concert Company in 1904 to lead the P. G. Lowery Vaudeville Company, performing for the Forepaugh and Sells Circus. In 1906 he formed his own Progressive Musical Enterprise. Later, he began a group called P. G. Lowery’s Mighty Minstrels and played for the Wallace & Hagenbeck Shows which traveled to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. In 1910, The P. G. Lowery & Morgan Minstrels toured the United States.

He performed and led groups on vaudeville and for circuses for thirty more years. He conducted and played for many organizations including the Forepaugh and Sell’s Circus from 1899 to 1904, Great Wallace Circus during the 1905 and 1906 seasons, the Wallace and Hagenbeck Shows from the 1907 through the 1914 season, the Richards and Pringle’s Minstrels band during the 1915 season, and again with Wallace and Hagenbeck until 1919. On the off-seasons, he had many different obligations, e.g., conducting the Original Nashville Student band during the winters of 1900, 1901, and 1903. During the winter of 1904, he conducted The Commercial Band of Pittsburgh. It gave its premiere concert in Turner’s Hall, Pittsburgh on 27 February 1905 and consisted of thirty-five members. In the winter of 1906, he went back to the Original Nashville Student band. Apparently he took vacations in the winters of 1902 and 1905, as no extra work was listed for Lowery in The Freeman during these times. For many off-seasons after 1906 he co-directed the Lowery & Morgan Minstrels and conducted the musicians for the Fashion Plate Minstrels. In 1919, Lowery was hired to conduct his own band for the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, and remained with the circus until 1931. He then traveled with the Gorman Brothers Circus in 1934, Cole Brothers Circus from 1935 to 1937, the Robbins Brothers Circus in 1938, the Downie Brothers Circus in 1939, and again with the Cole Brothers from 1940 until his death in 1942 (Smith 1991, 279-280). Lowery’s best-known band composition is the galop Prince of Decora (Rehrig 1991, 475; The Freeman, 20 August 1906).

Lowery had performed on a Boston 3-Star Cornet for some time prior to 1901, when the BOSTON MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MANUFACTORY sent him a gold and silver plated Boston 3-Star Cornet. The instrument was custom made for Lowery, having a heavier than usual construction (The Freeman, 29 June 1901).

Lowery also played and endorsed the Holton "New Proportion" Cornet. He appeared in publicity adds for the company in The Freeman for many years beginning on 5 May 1906. Holton gave Lowery a highly engraved gold [plated] cornet in a plush lined case as a token of their appreciation for Lowery’s "untiring efforts to show the world that Frank Holton & Co. makes the best band instruments in the world" (The Freeman, 22 July 1911).

In addition to his conducting and performing duties, Lowery published an article called "The Cornet and Cornetists of Today" (The Freeman,13 January 1900). Eileen Southern in The Music of Black Americans (Southern 1997, 300) mentions that Lowery wrote a column for years, but this author could only find a single article. It is possible that some of the small biographical articles on cornet players were by Lowery, but credit is never given to him for any of them.

Lowery was a consummate musician, cornet virtuoso, and extremely kind man. He was always patient with his players, extending a smile at the right moment. He was always satisfied to work quietly, allowing others enjoy praise. "Spiritualists have said: ‘His prosperity is anointed with the blessings of the Almighty’" (Arthur L. Prince in The Freeman, 27 January 1912).

As a result of Lowery’s efforts in the circus business, by 1910, there were "no less than fourteen white tents giving employment to big colored companies" (The Freeman, 9 July 1910). He was an innovator and extremely important African American pioneer of the American musical scene of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Information received from the Greenwood County [Kansas] Historical Society in Eureka, Kansas and The Freeman, 25 December, 1897 states that Lowery was born in Topeka. Records from the Society also state that he died at his home in Cleveland on 15 December 1942 (Greenwood County Historical Society 2000). Information for this entry appears in many issues of The Freeman from 23 January 1897 to 25 March 1916 and all other resources listed throughout this entry.

George Macfarlane

Macfarlane was an important soloist on the cornet and cornopean between c1830 and c1850. He began on the keyed bugle and made the switch to the cornet. He was responsible for the addition of the "Macfarlane Clapper" to the cornet à pistons. This key, when opened, would raise the pitch of the horn by a step so that tremolos could be easily played. He was active as a conductor and composer, and made improvements to the cornopean, ophicleide, and lower brass instruments. He introduced the cornopean to England in 1833, writing compositions and tutors for it. The author of this document could find no specific citings for names of his methods or solos, however. He also performed in the Duke of Devonshire’s Band and was active as a soloist. Information for this entry appears in Brass Roots ( Newsome 1998, 113 ).

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