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Carole Mikita ReportingHe helped Sydney Poitier win the Academy Award, the first black in a leading role. Jester Hairston is legendary, but his life's work was more than behind-the-scenes in Hollywood.
Richard Hatch first met him in 1993 after a concert in Santa Monica. He was so fascinated by Jester Hairston that he decided he wanted to tell his story.
Jester Hairston enjoyed an extensive career in Hollywood with many of the biggest stars of the 30's and 40's, writing and conducting background scores and choral numbers for major motion pictures. But that was not his real love.
Richard Hatch, Filmmaker: "There is no name that has spread the spirituals worldwide bigger than Jester Hairson. And a lot of people don't know him, and that's why I stepped to the pulpit and said, 'This has to be done.'"
California media businessman, Richard Hatch has spent 10 years producing a documentary about a man he considers an incomparable musician and a national treasure.
Hairston traveled the world as a Goodwill Ambassador, teaching the music of his ancestors. He conducted many American choirs as well, coming to Utah often leading high school, college and community choral groups, and yes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Richard Hatch: "He had not really done a concert with the Tabernacle Choir. And when we arranged to have that done, it was the first time he had actually conducted the Tabernacle Choir in a concert, which became the basis for the film."
Jester Hairston was the grandson of slaves; it is where is love of spirituals came from. His dream was simply to keep that musical tradition alive.
"Jester, the Amen Man" will premiere in Salt Lake Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Conference Center and there is another screening that night at 9:00. Tickets are free. The Calvary Baptist Church Choir and Riverton and Hillcrest High School choirs will perform.