Music, Muscle, and Masterful Arts

Black and Indigenous Performers of the Circus Age

By Sakina M. Hughes

Music, Muscle, and Masterful Arts

Approx. 240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 34 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7627-2
    Published: January 2025
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7626-5
    Published: January 2025

Paperback Available January 2025, but pre-order your copy today!

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Before the heyday of the Chitlin Circuit and the Harlem Renaissance, African American performing artists and creative entrepreneurs—sometimes called Black Bohemians—seized their limited freedoms and gained both fame and fortune with their work in a white-dominated marketplace. These Black performers plied their trade in circuses, blues tents, and Wild West Shows with Native Americans. The era's traveling entertainments often promoted the "disappearing Indian" myth and promoted racial hierarchies with Black and Native people at the bottom. But in a racial economy rooted in settler-colonialism and legacies of enslavement, Black and Indigenous performers found that otherness could be a job qualification. Whether as artists or manual laborers, these workers rejected marginalization by traveling the world, making a solid living off their talents, and building platforms for political and social critique.  Eventually, America's popular entertainment industry could not survive without Black and Native Americans’ creative labor. As audiences came to eagerly anticipate their genius, these performers paved the way for greater social, economic, and cultural autonomy.

Sakina M. Hughes provides a conceptually rich work revealing memorable individuals—laborers, artists, and entrepreneurs—who, faced with danger and discrimination, created surprising opportunities to showcase their talents and gain fame, wealth, and mobility.

About the Author

Sakina M. Hughes is associate professor of ethnic studies at Santa Clara University.
For more information about Sakina M. Hughes, visit the Author Page.


"Creatively using archives and blending meticulous research with wonderful storytelling, Sakina Hughes provides one of the most imaginatively written books in the field of Afro-Indigenous history. If you enjoy history, performance, and popular culture, this book is a must read!"—Kyle T. Mays, author of An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States

"Hughes offers a compelling history grounded in innovative research, introducing us to African American and Native American performers most of us never knew existed and showing how their labor provided the opportunity to define their own ideas about economic freedom and citizenship."—Angela Pulley Hudson, Texas A&M University