Jubilee Showcase Documentary

Jubilee Showcase documentary trailer
Click to watch video.



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 in 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 Moseley 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, 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 Showcase (documentary film) - 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 twenty- one 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 Showcase (documentary film) 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 Showcase (documentary film) 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 non- religious 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 and Bobby Womack. 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 Showcase (documentary film) will wrap up by tying together the several themes laid out during the program.


The approach for this film will be a mix of expository, using narration, and interactive, via interviews with occasional interaction between the interviewer and interviewee when appropriate. Relevant interactions are possible since the Director and interviewer of this documentary is Sid Ordower’s son, Steve Ordower. A relatedness between Steve and most of the interviewees has already been established years ago, which has allowed him access to the likes of Mavis Staples, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun. Steve’s unique perspective will be peppered through the film as needed to accentuate the story.

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 Showcase (documentary film) 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 Showcase (documentary film) 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 Showcase (documentary film) 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.





Steve Ordower, Director & Producer:

Steve Ordower is a producer/director and award-winning editor of dramatic films, documentaries, broadcast programs, corporate videos, and live concerts. He is dedicated to educating people through film, television and music production, and is the founder of the Chicago-based film and video production company, Rhythm & Light.

Ordower's work has been seen on The Discovery Channel, IFC (Independent Film Channel), and the Gospel Music Channel, as well as through international distribution outlets. He also manages the historic archive of Gospel Music television footage from the Emmy-Award-winning show, Jubilee Showcase, which ran on the Chicago ABC affiliate (WLS- TV) for 21 years. As a result, he has licensed footage for the documentary about Mavis Staples entitled, Mavis!, as well as Nightline, 60 Minutes, Blackside (PBS) as well as The Blues (PBS) documentary series spearheaded by Martin Scorsese, and The Chicago History Museum. Ordower is also developing a documentary film about Jubilee Showcase, and has conducted numerous on-camera interviews including those with Grammy-award winners Mavis Staples, Albertina Walker and Andrae Crouch, as well as with Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun.

Excerpts of these interviews have been utilized for the Classic Moments in Jubilee Showcase DVD, which Ordower produced. He was adamant about including a "Learn About the Artists" section on this project, since he feels it is vital to create awareness for the Gospel legends that performed on the show since their influence has permeated the musical landscape of today. This DVD was used as a premium for a PBS special celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show entitled, "Gospel's Jubilee Showcase." Ordower produced and directed this hour-long program that aired nationally in 2013 and 2014, hosted by Clifton Davis.

Previous to this, Ordower produced four public service announcements that aired on the Gospel Music Channel for Black History Month, profiling various legends of Gospel music, including his father Sid. He also had the opportunity to work closely with one of the talented artists from Jubilee Showcase. Jessy Dixon was a Grammy-nominated artist who toured with Paul Simon for eight years, and asked Ordower to produce and direct the historic live concert video project at the Liberty Baptist Church on Chicago's south side.

Ordower enjoys working in dramatic film as well having produced and edited "The Man In The Silo," a dramatic neo-noir film starring Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters / Oz) and directed by Phil Donlon, which was shot in the Los Angeles area, Chicago, and Wisconsin. The movie tells the story of racial family conflict resulting in a horrific car accident that leaves Hudson's character, Marcus Wells, a successful African American executive, proud husband and father-alone, in a secret world of guilt and despair, while he cares for his wife's incapacitated grandmother. Displaced from city to farm life, Marcus faces his darkest fears, his wife's vengeful grandmother, and the truth about himself. The film premiered at the Fine Arts Theater in Hollywood, California as part of the SSG Screening Series, and was showcased at The Gene Siskel Film Center in August 2013, as part of The Black Harvest Film Festival. It also won the award for "Best Feature Film" at the Texas Black Film Festival. This film is distributed internationally via Amazon Prime Video and Google Play.

Ordower's first project with director Phil Donlon, "Wrestled," was chosen by the IFC (Independent Film Channel) for the 2006 season. This film, which he edited and sound-designed, won the "Best Dramatic Short Film" award from the Orion Film Festival in Texas, and received a "Critic's Choice" acknowledgement from the Chicago Reader. He also edited the 60-minute and 15-minute version of the documentary, "Too Flawed To Fix": The Illinois Death Penalty Experience, co- funded by Amnesty International and distributed around the world. Even though Ordower is focused on producing, directing and now writing, his dedication to education continues as he teaches the next generation at both the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago (advanced editing and documentary) as well as Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism (storytelling in the visual medium).

In addition to producing a documentary film about the Gospel TV show, "Jubilee Showcase," Ordower is working on a documentary about interfaith marriage called, "Leaps Of Faiths," to air on WTTW, the Chicago Public Television affiliate. He's also working on a scripted satirical audio podcast, "Sounds Of The Game," as a Producer, Actor as well as Music composer and arranger. This project is a mocumentary radio podcast of Midwest high school football games that takes a hilarious look at how football in the U.S. has become the new “opiate of the people,” where everyone’s hopes and dreams seem to hinge on their team winning, and an exploration of the real reasons conservative America struggles with the social issues of the day.

Bob Hercules, Executive Producer:

Bob Hercules is an independent filmmaker and co-owner of Media Process Group—a Chicago-based production company. Hercules' work has been seen widely on PBS, Discovery Channel, IFC, The Learning Channel and in film festivals around the world.

Hercules’ new film, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win 19 awards on three continents. The film was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and aired on PBS’ American Masters in February, 2017 and on the BBC’s Storyville in March, 2017.

Hercules also made two films focusing on dance: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance and Bill T. Jones: A Good Man. The Joffrey film, narrated by Mandy Patinkin, tells the full story of the groundbreaking ballet company and their many rises and falls. It premiered in January, 2012 at the Dance on Camera Film Festival at Lincoln Center and aired on PBS’ American Masters December, 2012. A Good Man aired on American Masters in 2011 and played at many film festivals including IDFA, Silverdocs, Full Frame, DOXA and the Southern Circuit.

His 2009 documentary, Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger, chronicles the radical priest whose controversial tactics to fight racism put him at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. The film was named Best Documentary at the 2009 Big Muddy Film Festival and was the opening night film at the 2009 Black Harvest Film Festival. It was broadcast on WTTW, Chicago in 2010.

In 2008 Hercules directed the Barack Obama and Michelle Obama biography videos for Obama's Presidential campaign website . He also directed Obama's 2007 Presidential announcement video in Springfield, Illinois. Hercules' 2006 documentary, Senator Obama Goes to Africa, is a chronicle of Obama's momentous 2006 trip to Africa, including an emotional visit to Kisumu, Kenya-- homeland of his late father. It is currently in home video release from First Run Features.

Hercules' acclaimed 2006 feature documentary, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, tells the remarkable story of Auschwitz survivor and former 'Mengele twin' Eva Mozes Kor, whose decision to forgive the perpetrators as an act of self-healing sparked a firestorm of criticism. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival and the Crystal Heart Award at the 2006 Heartland Film Festival. It is currently in home video release from First Run Features.

Other films include:

The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky & His Legacy (Documentary, 1999). A chronicle of the legendary community organizer and his modern-day legacy, narrated by Alec Baldwin.. Broadcast on PBS 2000, Best Documentary, Philadelphia International Film Festival. Director, Co-Producer, Co-Writer.

It’s a Mall, Mall World (1992). One-hour program examining the phenomenon of indoor shopping malls (part of the PBS series "The 90's") Program Producer, Director, Co-Writer. PBS, 1992.

Did They Buy It? (Documentary, 1991). A film about that Nicaragua’s momentous 1990 National Elections and how the U.S. media covered it. Best Documentary 1992 Big Muddy Film Festival; Gold Plaque, 1992 Chicago International Film Festival. Director, Writer, Co-Producer, Co-D.P.

Baseball's Heirlooms (Documentary, 1990). The story of four of America's classic ballparks, hosted and narrated by Jeff Daniels. Discovery Channel. Director, Co-Writer, Co-D.P

Rollie Hudson,Consulting Producer:

Mr. Hudson’s experience includes work with the television series New Spaces (for HGTV – Home and Garden Television) as series producer/director (Broadview Media, production company). He produced and wrote a number of episodes for A&E Network’s The Unexplained series (hosted by Bill Kurtis). Hudson also contributed to a number of documentary series and specials as a (series) researcher and assistant producer with BBC Television, including The Promised Land, the award-winning series about the Great Migration of African- Americans narrated by Morgan Freeman. He has worked with London’s Channel Four, The Discovery Channel and a number of British and US- based TV production companies.

Jan Muller, Editor:

Jan Muller, although born in Chicago, began working in video post-production in 1991 at Videocraft in Boston, MA, a post house that beta-tested the very first Avid systems. He recently edited the first three epiodes of “A Piece of the Game” a half hour sports memorabilia show on Media Process Group's Avid system which was just awarded a Midwest Emmy in November 2013. Besides editing numerous documentaries, short films and music videos on his Final Cut Pro system, Jan spent 10 years at WLS-TV and finally at WTTW editing the weekly film review show “At the Movies” hosted by Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper and several other talented film critics.

Mitch Peyser, Consulting Producer:

Mitch Peyser is currently Vice President and Executive Producer at Time Life. He has produced some of the Time Life’s biggest successes including Songs4Worship, 100 Classical Masterpieces, Legends of Rock with Roger Daltry, 60s Gold with Davy Jones. Mitch has also produced or co-produced the PBS specials, Gospel’s Jubilee Showcase with Clifton Davis, Opry Video Classics with John Schneider and Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Seigel. Mitch has also served as Vice President of Marketing for Time Life Music where he managed all channels of marketing for the Time Life Music products. Mitch also serves on the board of The Gospel Music Association.

Keith Walker, Director of Photography:

Director of Photography Keith Walker is a gifted documentary shooter who brings over 20 years of experience to the project. Walker is also co- owner of Media Process Group. Keith has shot projects around the world for CBS’ 60 Minutes, PBS’ Frontline, the Oprah Winfrey Show, HBO’s Real Sports, the Gates Foundation and ESPN. Walker shot and co- produced Senator Obama Goes to Africa and was D.P. for Bob Hercules’ A Good Man and Forgiving Dr. Mengele. He was also DP for recent films by Steve James, Alex Gibney and Gordon Quinn. He won a 2009 National Emmy Award for a 60 Minutes piece he shot.

Stephan Garnett, Consultant:

Stephan Garnett has a 30-year career as a journalist. In addition to working as a suburban and community reporter, he has been an investigative reporter for The Chicago Reporter, and an urban and police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago. He spent 14 years as a magazine feature writer and editor, first for ShopTalk, a trade publication, then as a contributing writer to Dollars & Sense and Blackbook magazines. More recently, Garnett has worked in radio, film and television. He has researched and consulted for documentaries produced by the BBC and CNN and has been an essayist for “Chicago Matters,” an acclaimed local Public Radio community series. In 2005, Garnett executive produced and wrote and narrated the script for a 15-minute multi-media documentary on the last building left standing at Robert Taylor Homes, once the largest public housing project in the nation. Garnett teaches Journalism Methods for graduates and Media Convergence for undergraduates. He also edits for the Medill News Service and has served as an adviser for Medill’s Global Journalism program.



page graphic
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