Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Leon Claxton, Tampa’s Black variety show producer, is featured in new documentary (Tampa Bay Times)

Leon Claxton and the great Joe Louis 

 His Harlem in Havana show once toured the United States and Canada as part of the carnival and state fair circuit. 

Tampa Bay Times - by Paul Guzzo - Published Feb. 24, 2022

TAMPA — Redd Foxx and Chuck Berry were two of the most famous Black entertainers of their time. Each got a big break in front of white audiences performing for a Black producer whose fame once eclipsed theirs. 

From the 1930s through 1960s, Leon Claxton’s Black variety shows were celebrated throughout the United States and Canada as part of the traveling carnival and state fair circuit. When Claxton took a break from the road, home was Tampa, where he was a businessman who might have been the city’s first Black millionaire. Read more.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Celebrating Black History: Watch the JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana - the full film online!


JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana - A documentary film by Leslie Cunningham (2022, runtime 1hr:46min)

Brown skin showgirls, whites-only audiences, and the brave African American showman who left an extraordinary entertainment legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams. 

Step right up, folks! The last remaining great troupers are finally telling their stories about Harlem in Havana, one of America's most successful traveling shows that broke carnival records from the U.S. to Western Canada, birthed music icons like Rufus Thomas, Fontella Bass and Mercedes Valdés and significantly impacted Black entertainment during the era of Jim Crow. Also unearthed is the legend of Tampa’s beloved showman Leon Claxton, the award-winning producer who left an extraordinary entertainment legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams.


A magical journey into the complexities of American entertainment, race history and family, JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana is a three-part film document produced by director Leslie Cunningham, the granddaughter of a great impresario, who sheds light on an under-explored aspect of black popular culture in the American, the traveling “jig show”. In this untold story, road show producer Leon Claxton and his brown-skin troupe break barriers to perform for “whites only”, enduring racism, state-sanctioned segregation and immigration laws to become popular in the 1930s through the 1960s. But with social revolutions in the U.S. and Cuba, and a startling family secret, what would be the fate of Harlem in Havana, one of the greatest variety shows of our time?



In the film document, Leslie, the granddaughter of a great impresario, is on the road collecting the memories of former performers and past patrons who witnessed her family's popular show "Harlem in Havana". This Black and Cuban presentation of specialized music, dance, and burlesque-style performance became the leading outdoor attraction before the American public during Jim Crow and left an indelible mark on the history of American entertainment. Switching lanes between Black history, and personal memoirs, Leslie turns the cameras on her own family to understand how her grandfather, Leon Claxton, went from humble beginnings in Memphis as water boy for Ringling Brothers Circus- to producing a groundbreaking and highly successful show that earned him millions and a place in history. Read more. 


Learn about the Harlem in Havana Project.




Thursday, February 25, 2021

View the HARLEM IN HAVANA Collectors edition online!

(IPad, PDF or Web Viewer)

The Harlem in Havana Collector's Edition features 28 original pages taken directly from the show's annual program booklets in 1955, 1958 and 1959. Showcasing outstanding cast members, including Micki Lynn, The Five Pennies and the Cuban Dancing Dolls, some of the pages in this special edition include autographs from the entertainers themselves!  View now. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

JIG SHOW!? Brown-Skinned Showgirls, One Legged Tappers, and a Lucumi Ritual Dance. Celebrating Black History Month.


New documentary film series shines a spotlight on Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana and a little-known aspect of African American culture. Meet the unknown pioneers who helped shape Black and Cuban entertainment during Jim Crow. Watch Part One in Celebration of Black History Month!

DURHAM, N.C. - Feb. 22, 2021 - PRLog -- Step right up, folks! The last remaining great Black troupers are finally telling their stories about one of America's most successful traveling shows that broke carnival records from the U.S. to Western Canada, birthed music icons like Rufus Thomas, Fontella Bass and Mercedes Valdés, and significantly impacted Black and Latin entertainment during the Jim Crow era. Also unearthed is the legend of one of Tampa's most beloved showman, Leon Claxton Sr., a brave African-American impresario who left an extraordinary legacy despite the insurmountable odds against him and his dreams. Read more now.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

Leon Claxton depicted in West Tampa Mural

Photo credit: Traci Cunningham

Producer Leon Claxton's legacy continues to live on in the city of Tampa, Florida. His image has been depicted in a new West Tampa Mural titled "Faces of West Tampa" created by artists: Illsol (Tony Krol, Michelle Sawyer). The mural is located at Salcines Park, West Tampa, 1705 N Howard Ave. Tampa.gov states - Faces of West Tampa pays homage to the diverse history of West Tampa by showcasing many of the area’s historic figures, elements, and places of historic significance that represent the West Tampa area.  Read more



Sunday, February 14, 2021

About The Harlem in Havana Project

The Harlem in Havana Project is a multimedia documentary project created by artist and documentarian Leslie Cunningham in honor of Leon Claxton's Black and Cuban stage production, The Harlem in Havana revue, one of America's most successful traveling shows that significantly impacted American entertainment in ways that still resonate with wonder today. 

This project aims to revive Harlem in Havana's rich entertainment history through a variety of thought-provoking content, including this website, a documentary film and the Brown-Skin Showgirls photography books.  

Harlem in Havana was the place where the future heavyweights of entertainment birthed new music, dance and comedy. This documentary project provides an opportunity for a whole segment of artists and performances to tap into this history and enhance their current art forms. Back then it was a “colored” variety show with performance pieces, but today’s it’s an art form. This is where that history originated. Learn more