Mr. Soul! – he was black, hip, smart, innovative, political, and gay
Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was MR. SOUL! Ellis Haizlip ensures the Revolution will be televised, with “SOUL!,” America’s first “Black Tonight Show.” From 1968 to 1973, the public-television variety show SOUL!, guided by the enigmatic, openly gay producer and host Ellis Haizlip, offered an unfiltered, uncompromising celebration of Black literature, poetry, music, and politics—voices that had few other options for national exposure, and, as a result, found the program an improbable place to call home. The series was among the first to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and a bevy of great archival clips, MR. SOUL! captures a critical moment in culture whose impact continues to resonate.
This monumental film is a tribute and an important look back at America’s first “Black Tonight Show” that aired directly from New York on public broadcasting from 1968-1973 at the height of the Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Aptly titled SOUL!, this groundbreaking show was produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip aka Mr. SOUL! He was hip, smart, innovative, political and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, he ensured the revolution would be televised. And that Revolution was his TV show SOUL! – an incredibly unique weekly television show that aired on public television from 1968 – 1973 celebrating Black American culture, art, life, love and community, which he shared with households across the nation in their living rooms every week.
SOUL! was the first national show to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and a bevy of great rarely seen archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures that critical moment in our nation’s cultural rise, and whose impact continues to resonate across generations and cultures.
This film is more than the story of a television show and its host, it was monumental in moving the culture of black Americans to the forefront at a time when racial tensions were at an all time high, late 60s. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and the president fuckery of Nixon created a challenging climate for all. Ellis Haizlip somehow saw through all of this and realized there was a huge amount of positive things happening as well within his community, and he bravely went on national television and began pushing buttons and showcasing rising black entertainers, that consisted of musicians, dancers, spoken word poets, and more. He also made sure to tie in some politics, no matter how controversial. He wanted to show viewers that it was the media and White House who were pitting blacks against whites, and dividing the nation.
Soul! was the first all black show on television, including a mostly female production team as well. Groundbreaking for the time. As you can see below, there was no shortage of guests that Ellis secured for the show over its five year tenure. Humble and shy, his legacy lives on in the music and art of many who met him. A must see film that is as equally relevant today with where things are at in the United States and the Black Lives Matter Movement. How can that country be in the same place of division they were in more than 50 years ago? Look no further than the media and the White House, once again!
Featuring rare live performances and interviews from the legendary Al Green, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, The Last Poets, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Ashford & Simpson, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Billy Preston, Black Ivory, The Delfonics, Bill Withers, Sonia Sanchez, Wilson Pickett, Odetta, Merry Clayton, Mandrill, Kool & the Gang, Toni Morrison, Kathleen Cleaver, Betty Shabazz, Stokely Carmichael, Mrs. Georgia Jackson, George Faison, Patti LaBelle, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and many more.
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About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.