23 December 2011

The Sensational Golden Age Gospel Goodness of JUBiLEE SHOWCASE

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Starting out humbly by broadcasting from a  Chicago car dealership in 1963 and for the next twenty-one years of Sunday mornings, Sid Ordower presented the Emmy award winning Jubilee Showcase, a powerful half-hour of the finest Gospel music America had to offer. 

Many artists now considered legendary performers from Gospel music's golden age got their start on Ordower's show or made their first televised appearance there.  Names like Thomas A. Dorsey renowned as the father of gospel music , The Barrett Sisters, The Soul Stirrers, Andrae Crouch, Albertina Walker and The Caravans, Jessy Dixon, Edwin Hawkins, Sallie Martin, The Staple Singers, Inez Andrews, The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Reverend James Cleveland, Otis Clay, Shirley Caesar and many more. The ultimate Who's Who of Gospel music. As Mr. Ordower told the Chicago Tribune in 1982,  

"I always used to pride myself on getting the best soloists, the greatest groups, the finest accompanists in gospel," "The idea was to get variety. . . . We didn't want to feature just quartets or just soloists. We wanted everything that was out there, so long as it was the best."

Featuring three to four acts per show, over the course of the shows run Ordower presented over 430 acts. In a an interview with Steven Ordower, Sid's son, I asked how his father became interested in Gospel music,

"My father became interested in Gospel Music out of his work and commitment to the Civil Rights movement. African-American churches were a main part of the organizational apparatus of the Civil Rights movement, so my father was around a lot of Gospel Music at the time." Steven Ordower went on to tell the Chicago Tribune that,  "I think a lot of his views got shaped when he was in World War II," "I have a feeling that seeing the atrocities of war first- hand – and he would never talk about it with me – scarred him mentally on many levels, and I think it inspired him in a lot of ways, too…."I think that really launched his whole desire to do something about the injustices he saw. He got really involved in the labor movement and in the civil rights movement. And the churches were a real organizing part of the civil rights movement, so he got to know a lot of those people. … He could really cross cultural and racial boundaries pretty naturally – he was accepted in these different worlds."

The senior Ordower's experience in America's Civil Rights struggle included a trip to Jackson, Mississippi in 1951 where he was beaten by racist thugs when they learned of his plan to appeal to the state supreme court for a stay of execution "to allow new evidence to be presented in the case of Willie McGee, who had been unjustly convicted of raping a white woman."  As a result of the vicious beating Ordower recieved, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice intervened and granted a stay of execution.

When asked  what kind of relationship he had with the artists who performed on his show Steven Ordower replied, 

"My father had a relationship with a lot of the artists outside the show.  He used to take me to the Barrett Sisters' house for meals when I was very young, and he is remembered very affectionately for helping guide the careers of many of the artists that went on to become well known. He was also regularly referred to as "Brother Sid" in the black church, and recruited some talent directly from the churches."

Sid Ordower would be the first to admit that the Jubilee Showcase was not about him. Rather, he took pride in limiting his face time, "You see, I wasn't the star of the program, and I didn't pretend to be," he said in the Tribune interview. "I wasn't the one who sang and danced. All I did onscreen was introduce the groups, and I had a rule that I made myself and followed religiously: Never talk for more than 2 1/2 minutes."

Thanks to Sid Ordower and his family, America now possesses what Chicago's Rev. Lucius Hall calls,  ``the most comprehensive gospel video collection in the world today.`` As Ms. Albertina Walker states, "Sid opened the door and made it possible for the people at home to see it, because it wasn't show before he started it."

I don't think it's possible to state strongly enough that if you are a fan of serious Gospel music, if like me you have the documentary Say Amen, Somebody and The Gospel At Colonus in your DVD collection, then you must add Jubilee Showcase. It is a powerful set that we are so blessed to have had preserved. It's an amazing collection and I can't wait to see what else is in the Jubilee Showcase vaults.

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