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Thursday, October 20, 2011

New DVD puts spotlight on influential Chicago show, "Jubilee Showcase"

Sid Ordower interviews the Rev. Jesse Jackson on "Jubilee Showcase."

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Some of the most renowned gospel artists of all time - including James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Andrae Crouch and the Staple Singers - were given a stage for their music on "Jubilee Showcase," which aired on ABC Chicago affiliate Channel 7 from 1963 to 1984.

The Emmy Award-winning show was produced and hosted by Sid Ordower, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 82. Fortunately for all of us, his son, Steve Ordower, has preserved the show's electrifying and iconic moments through a new DVD, "Classic Moments In Jubilee Showcase," available at www.jubileeshowcase.com.

The DVD contains four episodes of the show and features stirring performances by gospel greats Andrae Crouch, Inez Andrews, Jesse Dixon, The Staple Singers and others, along with interviews and other special features.

I had the honor of interviewing Steve Ordower about preserving this important part of Chicago music history.

Q - You've actually been working on this project for a few years, right?

What I've been doing is interviewing several of the artists who have appeared on "Jubilee Showcase," a couple of whom unfortunately have passed away quite recently.

I've interviewed Albertina Walker. I interviewed a couple times Jessy Dixon, who recently passed away. I've interviewed Otis Clay and others who appeared on the show as well.


I'm just continuing to gather interviews, and it's critical right now, particularly because of the age of the performers that appeared on "Jubilee Showcase."

Q - Is it important to have those interviews as part of the documentary, to show the artists now and their remembrances of "Jubilee Showcase?"

Oh, absolutely. The interview with Mavis Staples was incredible. We talked about so many things. One of the things that I get to learn about is my father, and what he was like during that time. 

I wasn't an adult when he was doing all this, and it's a different perspective hearing about the show and him from these people.

Q - Of course, the show ran through 1984. Did you ever get to watch the show when it first ran?

Yeah. I used to sit with my father, and watch it Sunday mornings. Those were some really good times that I spent with my dad. I vaguely remember going to the set here and there, but I was so young.

Q - Was that your introduction to gospel music?

Oh, absolutely. Not only that, my father was heavily involved in the civil rights movement. He was very involved in the church community because that was a main organizing apparatus for the civil rights movement.

So I was in quite a few churches when I was a kid. He just exposed me to this whole side of life that someone of my background might not experience in a typical way.


Q - So you got to meet some civil rights leaders?

Yeah. When I was a kid, I remember being at Rev. Jesse Jackson's home. My father was also instrumental in getting the first black mayor of Chicago elected, Harold Washington. 

I interviewed Mayor Washington for my high school newspaper. That was an amazing experience. And the reason I got to do that is because my dad set it up.

Q - What high school did you go to?

Kenwood Academy. It was a pretty unique institution. What's ironic is that the choir director, Lena McLin, is the niece of Thomas Dorsey, who is the father of gospel music.

She was not a normal choir director by any stretch of the imagination. She was quite extraordinary and had an incredible choir at the high school.

The people that came through that choir, Chaka Khan came through that choir before me. The artist known as R. Kelly, I sang with him in the high school choir. I knew him as Robert, but now he's known as R. Kelly.

Q - Did you ever imagine that he would become this superstar? How was he in choir?

He was an extremely nice person. We got along really, really well. Everybody knew he was talented. But there were a lot of talented people in the choir.

We recognized that he had a range. It's not totally surprising that he got noticed. But there's a lot of talented people out there that really don't reach this level of stardom that he has.

Q - You've had some amazing experiences, it sounds like.

Not typical for a white Jewish kid from Hyde Park.

Q - It seems like the artists on "Jubilee Showcase" really appreciated what your father did in hosting the show.

For Albertina Walker, "Jubilee Showcase" allowed her to be seen and heard for the first time as a solo artist. And he made that happen.

It's not that he cultivated her talent. That was already in place. What he did was he set the stage for the talent of all of these wonderful artists to be experienced by the public, and made a huge impact on their careers.