Monday, January 9, 2012

Classic Moments in Jubilee Showcase reviewed by Mark Thompson

Classic Moments in Jubilee Showcase
Independent DVD release

Every Sunday morning for over twenty years, WLS Channel 7 in Chicago ran a pioneering program dedicated to gospel music called Jubilee Showcase. Hosted and produced by Sid Ordower, the Showcase brought the best gospel singers and groups into the viewers homes. For many African-American families, the show helped them get in the proper state of mind for their real Sunday church service. Some of the greatest names in gospel music appeared on the program, including James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, the Mighty Clouds of Joys and the man who defined Gospel music, the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, writer of classic hymns like”Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “Peace in the Valley”.

This new DVD release scratches the surface of material from the long-running series by presenting the musical performances from four separate programs without any commercial interruptions. The first episode may be in black & white but the music is exceptional, starting with the Staples Singers doing “Wish I Had Answered”. Roebuck “Pops” Staples lays down the rhythm on his reverb-drenched guitar while his children – Mavis, Cleotha and Pervis – sing for God's glory. Mavis takes the lead with her powerful voice, which also gets a workout later on a stirring “Hep Me Jesus”. Pops laid back vocal style is featured on “Gambling Man”. The other famous group on the bill was the Soul Stirrers, who once featured a youthful Sam Cooke on lead vocals. James Phelps does his interpretation of Cooke's style on “Resting Easy” while Billy Arthur impresses on “Looking Back”. The show also features a fixture on the Chicago gospel scene, the Norfleet Brothers, whose close harmony vocalization is spotlighted on “My Lord is Waiting All the Time”.

The second show switches to a color broadcast and provides a glimpse of the joyful noise raised by the New Friendship Inspirational Choir. Inez Andrews shows why she was one of the music's most popular singers throughout her career as she testifies on “Lord, Don't Move the Mountain” and “Toiling”. The Soul Stirrers return with a new line-up, this time featuring the brawny voice of Martin Jaycox on “Resting Easy” and an exquisite lead vocal from Willie Rogers on “Oh, What a Meeting”.

The third program features the pioneering Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. Crouch caused a revolution in gospel by incorporating pop and soul music elements to highlight his positive message. While the presence of horns and strong bass lines had purists ringing their hands in consternation, the groups performances show that Crouch was pushing the evolution of the music in an attempt to reach beyond the faithful to those in need of God's healing power. His songs and performances are inspirational, making it clear that his heart was in the right place.

The final installment focuses on two singers who had ties to James Cleveland, Jessy Dixon and Gene Viale. The Jessy Dixon Singers feature the leader backed by three female vocalists. They open with a rousing “Wait On Jesus”. Viale was a solo performer with an emotive style highlighted on “He's Wonderful”, an approach that undoubtedly served him well in his later career as an ordained minister.
The Salem Travelers were a quartet backed by a band with guitars, bass and drums. Both Robert J. Dixon on “Tell It Like It Is” and Arthur Davis on “Things I Used To Do” deliver commanding lead vocals. Another high point is the rave-up at the end on “I Know What Prayer Can Do” as all of the cast joins in, constantly switching the lead as the song steadily grows in intensity.

The DVD can be ordered directly from the website for $20 plus s&h. Included on menus that give additional information on the main performers, a complete listing of the songs from each show that details who was singing the lead vocal and a brief history of Jubilee Showcase. The only issue that one might have is that there isn't more of this great material included on the release. Hopefully this is the first in a series of discs. Once you get a chance to see this volume, you'll know that there has to be treasure trove of other amazing performances waiting to see the light of day. Don't delay – grab a copy of this one and enjoy the majesty of voices raised in celebration !!!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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