417 History: The Ozark Jubilee

    (Courtesy of the History Museum on the Square)

    The Ozark Jubilee aired weekly from 1954 to 1960 drawing some of the biggest country music stars to its stage, and predicting Springfield to overtake Nashville as the country music epicenter. The show helped Springfield become the 3rd leading producer of television behind Los Angeles and New York City. In 1956 the St Louis Post-Dispatch, “In fact, it’s generally agreed in televising, recording and radio circles that Springfield, now a city of 90,000, has shaken Nashville, Tenn., home of the Grand Ole Opry and long-time mecca of hillbilly musicians, to its very foundations.”

    A precursor to Ozark Jubilee, Korn’s-A-Krackin, played in the 1940’s at the Shrine Mosque and toured around to county fairs. This vaudeville and variety show gave producers of Ozark Jubilee the idea to create a television show with a similar format.

    (Courtesty of KWTO/Ralph Foster Museum)

    In the early 50’s four leaders (Lester Cox, Ralph Foster, Si Simon, and John Mahaffey) at the KWTO radio station decided they wanted to break into the television industry and formed Crossroad Television Production, Inc. In the creation of this televised variety show they knew they needed a big name to head the program. Simon headed to Nashville to recruit Red Foley, who had been on the Grand Ole Oprey for 8 years. It look 11 months of negotiations but Foley agree to host The Ozark Jubilee.

    The production team chose the Jewell Theatre, located at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and McDaniel Street, to perform the show. Foster apparently contracted $100,000 in repairs of the theatre and addition of necessary electronics to broadcast TV. Many people thought their idea was crazy but luckily, “It was an instantaneous hit on the air and within two weeks, the American Broadcasting Co. had picked up the show and put it on a national hookup,” noted the Post-Dispatch.

    (Courtesy of the History Museum on the Square)

    Interestingly, the first few episodes were actually filmed in Columbia MO. Springfield was able to receive transmissions but not connected to transmit out. While AT&T installed the necessary equipment at the Jewell Theatre, around 60 performers and technicians of The Ozark Jubilee would pile into a chartered bus at 5:00 am on Saturday and head for Columbia.

    (Courtesy of Bias/The Library Center)

     

    With Foley’s connection to Nashville, the show attracted some of country music’s biggest stars including Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Brenda Lee, Gene Autry, Carl Perkins, Speedy Haworth, Chet Atkins, and many many more. At the time the only way musicians made music was to sell records and make personal appearances, and to do that they needed exposure to a wide audience…they got that nationwide audience exposure through The Ozark Jubilee.

    (Photo courtesy of Brenda Lee)

    In 1957 they changed the name to Country Music Jubilee, and in 1958 to USA Jubilee. The show was cancelled in 1960, the last show was performed on September 24th, 1960. There were likely several reasons for the demise of the the Ozark Jubilee. Rock and Roll was growing in popularity and, also, Foley battled alcoholism, and he was being charged with tax evasion, of which he was later acquitted. In 1961 NBC started a spin-off titled Five Star Jubilee, which aired from the historic Lander’s Theatre. Five Star Jubilee was the first show televised in color outside of New York City and Los Angeles. The show ran from March 17th 1961 – September 22nd 1961. The show had 5 rotating hosts: Snooky Lanson, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen, Jimmy Wakely and Carl Smith.

    (Courtesy of the History Museum on the Square)

    With the end of the Jubilee so went Springfield’s standing as the country music capitol of the world. Shortly after the Jubilee was cancelled, The Jewell Theatre was torn down. Nevertheless, the show continues to have a lasting impact on the Ozarks. As the Jubilee was ending, Branson begin to boom. The first professional shows began to be performed there and it was the start of Silver Dollar City.

    Don Richardson, who was instrumental in the Ozark Jubilee, went to work for Silver Dollar City after the show ended. He began as a publicist for the theme park; suggesting the name Silver Dollar City and the gimmick of giving silver dollars in change. Richardson also brought Andy Miller to the park, who was the Jubilee’s set designer. “Andy created the look and feel of Silver Dollar City, and that’s directly related to the look and feel of the set of the Jubilee,” says Richardson. “There’s a direct link there,” he says. “Then a lot of the talent that came to Silver Dollar City … at different times was because of the connection to the television business.”

    We can also thank the Jubilee for Aunt Martha’s Pancake House. Martha Haworth, who was a performer on the Jubilee, opened the restaurant after the show ended. They served many famous musicians, and it is rumored that Willie Nelson even washed dishes there. The greasy spoon breakfast joint is, unfortunately, no longer open for business, but it was a huge part of our community for a very long time.

     

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