Jubilee Showcase Documentary

Jubilee Showcase documentary trailer
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Born in the crucible of the civil rights movement the gospel TV show, Jubilee Showcase, uniquely bridged the worlds of gospel, blues and R & B and was a precursor to modern soul music. Produced and hosted by a white Jewish political activist, Sid Ordower, this program was a singularly pioneering show in television history. For most of the artists who appeared on the program, it was their first time on television, helping launch many of their prolific careers. Jubilee Showcase was a literal “who´s who” of Gospel icons, including the likes of Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers, Albertina Walker and The Caravans, the Soul Stirrers, and Thomas A. Dorsey... Over 30 Grammy awards were handed out to artists from Jubilee Showcase over the years, and the show was awarded an Emmy for a, “pioneering project television,” yet the story of the pivotal role this show and its producer played in the proliferation of Gospel Music has never been told... until now.

Imagine finding out that someone, miraculously, had videotaped performances by Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, with the tapes now available for anyone who wished to see them. Or learning that someone had aimed a camera and microphone at Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, the tapes sure to offer insights on early ragtime and jazz. In a way, that’s what just happened in gospel music. For more than two decades, the long-defunct “Jubilee Showcase” TV program featured-and therefore preserved on tape-virtually everyone who mattered in gospel.

- THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, January 26, 1992

Broadcast from 1963 to 1984 in Chicago, Ordower´s show took the bold step of presenting gospel music as an art form in its own right. This format emerged from Ordower´s overlapping passions of politics and culture. He was an extraordinarily effective political activist, working both in the civil rights movement with such leaders as Dr. King and Rev. Jesse Jackson, and in electoral politics. Sid chose to dedicate his life in service of others after experiencing the atrocities of war as a U.S. soldier, which includes the horrific loss of life on D-day. He subsequently went to work altering the political and cultural landscape in America, playing a decisive role in the elections of many political figures including U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun (first African-American woman elected to the Senate), Chicago´s Mayor Harold Washington (first African-American mayor of Chicago), and U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis. According to the Chicago Defender newspaper, Sid was “a champion of freedom and equality” and “possessed an insatiable quest for the justice of every man.”

Sid Ordower was white and Jewish. The great majority of his guests on Jubilee Showcase were African-Americans, many of them Baptists. This documentary will explore how Ordower was able to cross racial and social boundaries, to create a television program showcasing music that laid the foundation for much of the music that evolved in the U.S. to this day.

Combining rarely seen excerpts from the show with modern-day interviews with luminaries such as Mavis Staples, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Timuel Black and Michael Eric Dyson, this documentary will tell the remarkable story of a time in which the worlds of gospel and civil rights merged and helped to re-shape the American landscape.

Mavis Staples and Steven Ordower discuss Jubilee Showcase
Gospel singer Mavis Staples and Steven Ordower discuss “Jubilee Showcase,”.


Sitting in a vault since their original broadcasts - and now exclusively available to the producers of Jubilee - these priceless bits of music history will be brought to a national audience in a powerful and unique way. Through Sid Ordower´s family legacy, the producers have exclusive access to the rare archive footage of the Jubilee Showcase series -100 half-hour shows.


“Hello, I´m Sid Ordower and welcome to ‘Jubilee Showcase’, the program presenting songs truly American: gospel, spiritual and jubilee songs - the great inspirational music of the past and present.” Every Sunday morning for twentyone years these words opened a unique local television show in Chicago - a half hour of African-American gospel music hosted by a straight-laced white man who seemed part reporter, part politician, part preacher all at once.

With longevity of two decades, perhaps the program owed its popularity to the fact that it was not conceived as a religious program. There was no proselytizing, except indirectly, in a song´s lyrics. However, Sid Ordower would occasionally indulge in short sermon-like commentary promoting his message of unity and love. This message was at the heart of Ordower´s agenda, working as a political activist extraordinaire, both in the civil rights movement and as a progressive behind-the-scenes policy maker in electoral politics.

During the 1940s Ordower returned from the Second World War incensed by the racism and inequities that pervaded the United States. Still a young man, he ran for congress as a Progressive Party candidate speaking from platforms with the likes of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. In 1953, he traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to testify in defense of a condemned black man unjustly convicted of raping a white woman. He was brutally beaten during that trip yet later commented to reporters, “If it took a beating to save a life, then it was worth it.” During the mid-1960s, Ordower organized with Martin Luther King, Jr. when the SCLC campaigned in Chicago. In the 1970s and later, Ordower fought against the corruption of the infamous Chicago Democratic Machine. Throughout his career, Ordower significantly influenced politics and culture on a national scale.

Mavis Staples prepares for an interview for the Jubilee Showcase documentary
Gospel singer Mavis Staples talks about Sid Ordower and Jubilee Showcase.


Mavis Staples prepares for an interview for the Jubilee Showcase documentary
Mavis Staples prepares for an interview for the Jubilee Showcase documentary

This documentary will be made up of THREE PARTS, each with an approximate duration of forty minutes.

PART ONE will consist of the show´s tease and opening segment - clips from Jubilee Showcase episodes and images from the civil rights movement. We will see a powerful performance by one of the greats who appeared on the show. For example, The Soul Stirrers singing “Oh, what a meeting,” an extremely soulful slow-moving song with tight harmonies about meeting Jesus Christ. We will then segue into a brief history of gospel music before the 1960s. The modern origin of the word, “Jubilee” comes to us from a Negro folk song characterized by references to a future ´happy time´ - a time of deliverance from trials and tribulations - itself based on the weary hollers of the slaves in the fields of southern plantations. This part of Jubilee will touch on Thomas A. Dorsey´s invention of gospel in the 1930s, it´s lack of acceptance by the African-American church community initially and how he combined Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues.

PART TWO will consist of an in-depth look at Sid Ordower´s political life--how he influenced the power structure of Chicago and the United States through his political activism, and what motivated him to do this work. This part of the program will show how his commitment to the cause of human rights led him to create Jubilee Showcase, and thus show the connection between the church communities in Chicago, political organizing, and gospel music. Ordower worked with Operation PUSH quite a bit and had its leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, appear on Jubilee Showcase a couple of times. Sid and Rev. Jackson reflected about Dr. King´s legacy in a talk-show format, which was atypical on the show, and Rev. Jackson recited poetry backed by a full choir on another occasion... unique and powerful footage that has never been seen by a national audience. As Jubilee unfolds we will begin to see the relevance between Ordower´s inspiring - yet secular - show introductions. He opened one show with: “Now is a great time to be alive... Discoveries that have taken place within our lifetime are both wonderful and terrifying.... And how we respond will depend upon how strong within us is the desire to serve.”

We will also show how deeply entrenched this television show became in the cultural fabric of Chicago. It was “church before church” for many African- American Christian families, as well as routinely watched by white and nonreligious people in the city. It was an institution in Chicago for 21 years. But, why would a man like this keep a show about Gospel Music going for so long? How did it further his goals as an activist? This approach will allow this film to segue into the early episodes of Jubilee Showcase itself. These episodes - recorded in black and white - were often dramatically lit, and have all the style and flavor of a classic movie. For most of the legendary artists, it was their first time on television, and greatly enhanced the awareness for Gospel Music, and the pioneers who performed it with tremendous talent.

PART THREE will focus on how Gospel Music has influenced the modern musical landscape embodied in such artists as Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Bobby Womack and R.Kelly. This film will also explore groundbreaking collaborations, such as with Prince producing a Mavis Staples´ album, Paul Simon and Jessy Dixon performing and recording for 8 years, and Andrae Crouch working on Michael Jackson´s album, “Man in the Mirror.” We will also produce original collaborations between Gospel artists who performed on Jubilee Showcase and modern-day artists who were influenced by Gospel Music, such as having Jennifer Hudson perform with Mavis Staples, or Willie Rogers of The Soul Stirrers perform with Aretha Franklin. Viewers will also learn how popular music and culture affected gospel music during the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Jubilee Showcase footage of The Staple Singers will show them using electric guitar with upbeat tempos in their music. Comparisons will be made to other shared trends in popular music happening at the time. For example, Bob Dylan´s electrification of folk music, was conceivably influenced by the Staple Singers, who he idolized.

Throughout the documentary we will see culture evolve with fashions changing as we move through the 60´s and 70´s. Even the manner in which Jubilee Showcase was produced transformed over the years - editing, chroma-keying, lighting, and shooting style all reflecting the evolving trends in society. Jubilee will wrap up by tying together the several themes laid out during the program.


Interviews will be dramatically lit and sometimes shot in an unconventional manner, such as having a Gospel artist or a Civil Rights activist walk down a street of their neighborhood in Chicago, ride in a car, or walk through a church sanctuary while reflecting on their experiences. Original musical collaborations between Gospel artists and modern-day artists will be shot with cinematic aesthetics in mind, and multiple cameras as needed. The producers of Jubilee also have access to a plethora of in-studio professionally shot still photographs to help tell this story.

The powerful performance footage from Jubilee Showcase will be a mixture of black and white (from the early 1960s) and color footage from the later years of the program.


The producers of Jubilee hope to reach an audience as wide and diverse as possible. This documentary will not advocate a particular religious point of view, yet it will be full of songs of faith. It is our hope that the beauty and depth of African-American Gospel music will appeal to a general audience. Viewers of this film will learn about the tremendous influence Gospel music has had on the modern-musical landscape to this day (some people call this Roots Music), with particular emphasis on the artists who appeared on Jubilee Showcase. Referencing performers such as Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson, Bobby Womack, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan, will bring immediate appeal to a wide swath of people who simply enjoy and are interested in music. No film to date has made such connections so clear.

Another audience for Jubilee is that of people already inclined to activism and bettering their communities. They will see examples of people who worked for a better world not only through direct action, but also through music. Ordower’s work in keeping Jubilee Showcase on the air for so long was the work of a cultural warrior. In short, we feel this film will have the capacity to inspire people across the board to understand one another’s perspectives of life to promote peace and harmony, by drawing on the experiences of Sid Ordower — a man who crossed social, economic, racial and religious boundaries throughout his life to bring about mutual respect and understanding to humanity.


Narration with interviews presented with journalistic objectivity. This is not a program that presents an explicit point of view, but rather, an implicit one - an opinion that regardless of your beliefs - gospel music is a high art form; and that the civil rights movement was fought on many fronts, political, spiritual, and cultural.





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Gospel music singer Mavis Staples
Gospel music artist Andrae Crouche
Gospel music singer Inez Andrews
Gospel music group The Soul Stirrers
Gospel music singer Jessy Dixon