Ozark Jubilee

Ozark Jubilee is the first U.S. network television program to feature country music’s top stars, and featured performers located in Springfield, Missouri which has long emulated Nashville, Tennessee as a center of American country music.

The weekly live stage show premiered on ABC-TV on January 22nd, 1955, was renamed Country Music Jubilee on July 6th, 1957, and was finally named Jubilee USA on August 2nd, 1958.  Originating “from the heart of the Ozarks,” the Saturday night variety series helped popularize country music in America’s cities and suburbs, drawing more than nine million viewers.  The ABC Radio version was heard by millions more starting in August 1954.

A typical program included a mix of vocal and instrumental performances, comedy routines, square dancing and an occasional novelty act.  The host was Red Foley, the nation’s top country music personality.  Big names such as Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash and Faron Young were interspersed with a regular cast, including a group of young talent the Jubilee brought to national fame: 11-year-old Brenda Lee, Porter Wagoner, Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Jean Shepard and The Browns.  Other featured cast members were Webb Pierce, Bobby Lord, Leroy Van Dyke, Norma Jean and Carl Smith.

Carl Perkins, singing “Blue Suede Shoes”, made his TV debut on the series, which showcased hundreds of popular artists performing everything from rockabilly, country and western, bluegrass and honky tonk to the Nashville sound, gospel and folk.  Several now-legendary session musicians provided accompaniment at times during the show’s run, including Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Bob Moore, Charlie Haden, Cecil Brower, Tommy Jackson and Bud Isaacs.  The genial Foley closed each show from the Jewell Theatre in downtown Springfield with a “song of inspiration” or a recitation from his Keepsake Album; and his sign-off was “Goodnight mama, goodnight papa,” before walking into the audience to shake hands as the credits rolled.

The Jubilee was canceled after almost six years as rock and roll grew in popularity, and in part because of publicity surrounding tax evasion charges against Foley, who was later acquitted.  On September 24th, 1960, the final telecast, like the first in 1955, opened with Foley singing “Hearts of Stone”.  The program concluded with him performing “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.”  The series was voted Best Country Music Show by Fame magazine’s annual TV critics poll in 1957 and 1960.  In 1961, NBC-TV carried a spin-off, Five Star Jubilee.