Medicine Shows in Appalachia


This pathfinder is meant to point readers to useful subject areas and works to explore in regards to the American medicine shows of the post-bellum era and early 20th century. While the medicine shows were a fairly distinct phenomena, studying them can lead researchers in many very diverse directions. Medicine shows were traveling musical and theatrical events designed to sell products, which were often advertised with elaborate and beautiful visual ads. Because of this, studying them can provide information on topics as wide-ranging as the evolution of medical advertising, commercial art, popular views of medicine and health, various forms of popular music, and traveling theater. The specific relevance of medicine shows to students of Appalachian Studies will likely (though not necessarily) be in specific Appalachian blues, old-time, and country performers who began their careers touring with medicine shows. While there are not very many works specifically on medicine shows, I have tried to point out particular performers and relevant subject areas, the study of which could enhance a reader’s understanding of medicine shows.

Introductory Text: 

Carson, Gerald. “Medicine Show.” The Encyclopedia Americana Vol. 18. Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated, 1996. pp. 637-8. ASU Reference AE5 .E333.

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant

Advertising Medicine HF6161.P37

Blackface Entertainers PN2071.B58

Medicine shows GV1834.7-GV1835.56

Minstrel Shows PN1969.M5

Patent Medicines RM671-RM671.5

Quacks and Quackery R730

Also Relevant

African American Entertainers

African Americans in Popular Culture

Blues (Music)-1931-1940 ML3521

Country music-to 1951

Jug Band Music

Jug Bands

String Band music

Washboard Band Music

Washboard Bands

More General

Advertising Fliers HF5861-HF5863

Advertising, Newspaper HF5871-HF6141

Blues (Music) ML3521

Blues Musicians

Country Music ML3523-ML3524

Country Musicians

Fiddle Tunes

Old-time music

Ragtime Music (History and Criticism) ML3530

Tent Shows

Traveling Theatre


Advertising HF5801-HF6182

Carnivals GV1834.7-GV1835.56

Circus GV1800-GV1831

Magic Shows

Peddlers GT5960.P43-GT5960.P432

Peddling HF5457-HF5459

Revues M1500-M1508

Revues-History and Criticism ML1700-ML1751

Sideshows GV1834.7-GV1835.56

Swindlers and Swindling HV6691-HV6699

Vaudeville PN1962-PN1969, PN6120.V3

Clipping Files Subject Headings – W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 

Black Musicians-Appalachia



Musical Instruments-Banjo

Library of Congress Call Numbers: 

GV1834.7-GV1835.56 (Medicine Shows)

GV1800-GV1831 (Circus)

GV1834.7-GV1835.56 (Sideshows)

R730 (Quacks and Quackery)

PN2071.B58 (Blackface Entertainers)

PN1969.M5 (Minstrel Shows)

HF5457-HF5459 (Peddling)

HF6161.P37 (Advertising Medicine)

HV6691-HV6699 (Swindlers and Swindling)

RM671-RM671.5 (Patent Medicines)

ML3521 (Blues)

ML3523-ML3524 (Country Music)

ML3530 (Ragtime Music, History and Criticism)

PN1962-PN1969, PN6120.V3 (Vaudeville)

M1500-M1508 (Revues)

ML1700-ML1751 (Revues, History and Criticism)

GT5960.P43-GT5960.P432 (Peddlers)


Anderson, Ann. Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2000. ASU Belk Library R730.A54

McNamara, Brooks. Step Right Up. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1976. Western Carolina University Hunter Library GV 1803.M32

Wyatt, Marshall and Bengt K. Olsson. Liner Notes: Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937. Raleigh, NC: Old Hat Records, 2005. ASU App Coll CDisc 1138

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Carson, Gerald. “Medicine Show.” The Encyclopedia Americana Vol. 18.Danbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated, 1996. 637-8. ASU Reference AE5 .E333 1996.

Dobie, J. Frank. “Medicine Show.” Dictionary of American History Third Edition, Vol. 5. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 305-6. ASU Reference E174 .D52 2003.

Leonard, Robert H. “Minstrelsy, Jim Crow, and Medicine Shows.” Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Ed. Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2006. 1254. ASU App Coll F106 .E53 2006.

Odell, Jay Scott and Robert B. Winans. “Banjo: History.” Grove Music Online Ed. L. Macy.

Oliver, Paul. “Hokum.” Grove Music Online. Ed. L. Macy.

Oliver, Paul. “Jug Band.” Grove Music Online Ed. L. Macy.

Rice, Harry. “Traveling Shows.” Encyclopedia of Appalachia Ed. Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2006. 994-995. ASU App Coll F106 .E53 2006.


Brislin, Richard, compiler. A Bibliography of the History and Playing Styles of the Five-String Banjo. Library of Congress Music Division, Archive of Folk Song, Washington DC. ASU App Coll Z1251.A7 B4 Banjo.

Dixon, Robert M.W., John Godrich and Howard W. Rye, compilers. Blues and Gospel Records: 1890-1943. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. UNC Asheville Reference ML 156.4.B6 D59

Hickerson, Joseph C., compiler. The Five-String Banjo: A Bibliography. Library of Congress Music Division, Archive of Folk Song, Washington DC. ASU App Coll Z1251.A7 B4 Banjo.

Hickerson, Joseph C. and David E. Nealon, compilers. Virginia Field Recordings in the Archive of Folk Culture. ASU App Coll Z1251.A7B4 Music.

Laird, Ross and Brian Rust. Discography of OKeh Records, 1918-1934. Westport: CT: Praeger, 2004. ASU Music Library. ML 156.2.L352

Larsen, John, Tony Russell, Richard Weize, compilers. Riley Puckett (1894-1946): Discography. Bremen : Archiv für Populäre Musik, 1977. ASU App Coll ML 156.7.P8 R5

Library of Congress. A Brief List of Material Dealing with Fiddling in North America Excluding American Collections of Fiddle and Dance Tunes. Library of Congress Music Division, Archive of Folk Song, Washington DC. ASU App Coll Z1251.A7 B4 Fiddling, Fiddle Tunes and Dance Tunes.

Mankelow, Chris. Vocalion Records: List of All Titles Issued on The Vocalion Lavel: The Vocalion Company 1919-1927. Tunbridge Wells: Claremont Records, 1982. Yale University Music Library. ML 156.2 M278 V8

Music Bibliography. (no author) ASU App Coll Z1251.A7B4 Music.

Rinzler, Ralph and Norm Cohen. Uncle Dave Macon: A Bio-Discography. Los Angeles, CA: John Edwards Memorial Foundation, University of California, 1970. ASU App Coll ML 156.7.M25 R5

Russell, Tony. Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ASU App Coll ML 156.4.C7 R87

Rust, Brian A.L. 1924 Catalogue of Lateral Gennett Records.Wells-Next-to-the-Sea, Norfolk: City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society, 2000. University of Wisconsin Madison, Music Library Reference Collection. ML156.2 G46

A Select Bibliography of Reference Materials for Music Guides. (no author) ASU App Coll Z1251.A7B4 Music.

Selected Annotated Discography of Southern Non-Blues Secular Black Music. Virginia Traditions. (no author) ASU Clippings file.

Vocalion Records. Vocalion Popular Record Catalogue: listing all Popular Vocalion Recordings Released up to September 20 1939. Bridgeport, CT; The Company, 1939. North Central College Haven Hubbard Collection. Sang Jazz 240

Abstracts and Indices: 

International Index to Music Periodicals (IIMP)
The Music Index Online
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature

Search For:

Acuff, Roy

Anderson, Pink

Ashley, Clarence “Tom”Banjo


Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers (Tom Ashley, Gwen Foster, Clarence Greene, Walt Davis)

Bluebird Records

Bouchillon, Chris

Bouchillon, Uris

Cannon, Gus (Banjo Joe)

Cannon’s Jug Stompers (Gus Cannon, Hosea Woods, Noah Lewis)

Carolina Tar Heels (Dock Walsh, Gwen Foster, Tom Ashley, Garley Foster)

Carson, “Fiddlin’” John (Fiddlin John Carson & His Virginia Reelers)

Champion Records


Clarion Records

Columbia Records

Conquerer Records

Covington, Ben “Bogus” (possibly the same person as Ben Curry)

Doc White Cloud’s Troupe

Dooley, Simmie

Emmett, Dan

Gennett Records

Gid Tanner & His Skillet-Lickers (Gid Tanner, Riley Puckett, Clayton McMitchen, Lowe Stokes, Fate Norris)

Godwin, William H. “Shorty” (Shorty Godwin)

Grant Brothers (Claude Grant and Jack Grant)

Hutchison, Frank

Jackson, Peg Leg (Arthur Jackson)

Jenkins, Snuffy

Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company

Macon, Uncle Dave (Uncle Dave Macon & His Fruit Jar Drinkers)

Mainer, Joseph Emmett/J.E. (J.E.’s Mainer’s Mountaineers)

McMichen, Clayton (sometimes Clayton or Clay McMitchen)

Medicine Shows

Medlin, Julian Leonard “Greasy”

Minstrel Shows


OKeh Records

Paramount Records

Patent Medicine

Poole, Charlie (Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers – Odell Smith, Roy Harvey)

Puckett, Riley

Rodgers, Jimmie

Scott, Tommy

Sherrill, Pappy


Skelton, Red

Smith, Walter “Kid”

Snake Oil

Supertone Records

Tanner, Gid


Velvet Tone Records

Victor Records

Vocalion Records


American Music. Champaign, Ill: Sonneck Society and the University of Illinois Press, 1983. Print. ASU Music Storage.

Black Music Research Journal. Nashville, Tenn: Institute for Research in Black American Music, Fisk University, 1980. Print. ASU Music Bound Journal.

Jemf Quarterly. Los Angeles: John Edwards Memorial Foundation, 1900. Print. ASU App Coll ML1 .J55.

The Journal of American Folklore. Boston: Published for the American Folk-lore Society by Houghton, Mifflin, and Co, 1888. Print. ASU Periodicals.

Compiled by: 

Leila E. Weinstein

November 2, 2006

Updated by: 

Misa L. Giroux

October 9, 2012