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.