Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was SOUL, the first “Black Tonight Show” produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip.  The groundbreaking television series aired on PBS from 1968 to 1973.  The show was both entertaining and revolutionary, while launching the careers of many of the African American icons of the 20th century, and marking the beginning of diversity in television.

For much of America, SOUL! offered the first glimpse of black culture, music, politics and community, as well as first-ever televised performances and appearances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Arsenio Hall, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Al Green, Ashford & Simpson, and more.

WNET/Channel 13 in New York City – celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year – was the original presenting station of SOUL!, making it a real New York story, one about the arts, culture, and a black, gay, broadcast pioneer who changed the media landscape at the onset of public television.  In 1972 and 1973, at the height of the show’s success, Lincoln Center invited Haizlip to produce Soul At The Center, a critically acclaimed, two-year, twelve-day black arts festival at Lincoln Center, which became the first collaborative venture between Lincoln Center and the black community.”  [http://mrsoulmovie.com]

This past weekend, I got a chance to view a few episodes of the revolutionary, groundbreaking series and was quit intrigued by the performances, and the down-to-earth response from the show’s guest.  This show was clearly not your average Hollywood glam talk show.  Pioneer Actress Cicely Tyson and bluesman Taj Mahal talk about the movie Sounder, which starred Tyson and Mahal; Mahal also does some selections from his soundtrack.  Exuma, a folksinger who uses some Bahamian rhythms, also performs. Cicely Tyson interview really stood out. She gave incite on her return to making movies, the importance of her role in Sounder and Black images in cinema as well as her hair experience.(click on the image below to view video)

“The Young People’s Show” was another episode watched.  This episode dedicated to the youth included Loretta Green, youth host and performances by child keyboard prodigy Lucky Peterson, singing groups “Black Ivory and Jimmy Briscoe and the Little Beavers,” poets Michael Goode and Vanessa Howard, and students and teachers from Newark’s Chad School.

America has another opportunity to experience SOUL! Via PBS (http://www.thirteen.org/soul) and the Mr. SOUL!, a new documentary film about Ellis Haizlip and the SOUL! Show.  The documentary is produced by award-winning producer/editor Sam Pollard – Director (Slavery by Another Name,  Four Little Girls, Clockers)  and Melissa Haizlip – Co-Producer (Firelight Media Producers’ Lab Fellow, a  Film Independent Project: Involve Fellow, Class of 2012-2013, and a 2011 Producers Guild of America Diversity Workshop Fellow.)

“The film offers a behind-the-scenes look at this revolutionary program, from its initial conception to its final broadcast, including the very public battle to keep it on the air despite a shifting political landscape.  The documentary interweaves Ellis Haizlip’s biography into the narrative following the five seasons of SOUL!, interspersing contemporary interviews, archival material, excerpts from the show, and narration by Keith David.”  [http://mrsoulmovie.com]

Both Sam Pollard and Melissa Halizlip put together an amazing team to produce this long awaited documentary.  The team includes:   Ilunga Adell – Writer (Sanford and Son, That’s My Mama, A Different World,Married With Children, and Moesha), Keith David – narrator (The Princess and the Frog, Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming , Allen Gregory -TV series) and  Bradford Young – cinematographer (Middle of Nowhere, Mississippi Damped, Restless City.)

The Producers are currently coming to an end of their Kickstarter campaign with less than 25 hours to meet their goal.  Visit the Mr. Soul!, the movie Kickstarter campaign for more information on how you can support an important historical era in American television.

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