January 16, 2017

Born for Hard Luck and Free Show Tonight

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Born for Hard Luck
A portrait of the last Black medicine-show performer, Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson, with brilliant harmonica songs, tales of hoboing, buck dances, and an authentic live medicine-show performance filmed at a North Carolina county fair in 1972. Between the Civil War and World War II, many such gifted and restless young black musicians found careers in the traveling patent-medicine shows, a favorite entertainment in the rural and small-town South. They sang and recited comic routines and danced to attract a crowd for the pitchman and his sales of wonder-cure “snake oil.” “Born for Hard Luck” includes highlights from Peg Leg Sam’s performance at a North Carolina county fair in 1972, the only film record of a live medicine show. It gives excerpts from his comic routines, a mock chanted sermon, “toasts,” folktales, three “buck dances,” and his brilliant harmonica playing and singing of “Reuben Train,” “Greasy Greens,” “Hand Me Down,” “Who Left My Backdoor Running,” and “Froggie Went A-Courting.” (29 minutes, B&W)

Free Show Tonight
Academy award winning filmmaker Paul Wagner and folklorist Steve Zeitlin produced this 1983 oral history of the old-time travelling medicine show performers, with a recreated medicine show staged in a small North Carolina town. (58 minutes, Color)

Also on DVD:

  • Willa: An American Snow White (85 min., ages 10-adult), Directed by Tom Davenport.

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