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Tommy Scott, 96; traveling medicine show ran until 1990s

Mr. Scott joined a  traveling medicine show in his teens.

Butch Lanham/N.Y. Times/2007

Mr. Scott joined a traveling medicine show in his teens.

NEW YORK — Tommy Scott — a country singer and songwriter who began his career in the 1930s as a member of one of the last traveling medicine shows and later became its leader, keeping it alive for more than five decades of one-night stands long after its dubious comedy and digestive cures became cultural relics — died Sept. 30 in Toccoa, Ga.

He died at 96 after being injured in a car accident Aug. 10, said his daughter, Sandra Scott Whitworth, who spent much of her childhood touring with the show as the singer, bass player, and acrobat known to audiences as Baby Sandra. His wife of 64 years, Frankie, performed as “the glamour girl and the comedian,” Whitworth said.

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Mr. Scott, who grew up on a farm in Eastanollee, Ga., was still a teenager when he joined a medicine show run by M.F. Chamberlain, known as Doc. Mr. Scott sang and played guitar and performed as a blackface minstrel (he later gave up the blackface), a ventriloquist, and, of course, a pitchman, helping sell Chamberlain’s Herb-O-Lac laxative.

Chamberlain, who had started the show in the 19th century, retired in the late 1930s and gave Mr. Scott control of both the show and the laxative. Other medicine shows were fading, but Mr. Scott continued on. He eventually set aside the Herb-O-Lac for a skin liniment he unapologetically called Snake Oil. In time, he renamed his show “‘Doc’ Scott’s Last Real Old Time Medicine Show.”

He had another nickname, Ramblin’ Tommy Scott, that was rooted in his other identities, as a singer, songwriter, and actor. He played with prominent country performers, including Charlie Monroe (brother of Bill, the founder of bluegrass) and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1940s.

He performed for decades on radio and was one of the first country musicians to appear regularly on television, in 1946. In 1949, he had a modest hit with his song “Rosebuds and You,” which was later covered by several performers. Another of his compositions, “You Are the Rainbow of My Dreams,” became a bluegrass standard.

Tommy Lee Scott was born in Eastanollee. He learned to play guitar and performed early on with his sister, Cleo. He leaves her, along with his daughter, a granddaughter, and two great-grandsons. His wife, the former Mary Frank Thomas, died in 2004.

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