Before Oprah, Arsenio or even Soul Train, Ellis Haizlip and the Corporation for Pubic Broadcasting gave us SOUL! on September 8, 1968. It was SOUL! that introduced America to a young former Alvin Ailey dancer turned choreographer – George Faison. Before “Amen”, Anna Maria Horsford was spitting poetry rhymes and Sesame Street’s “Susan” (Loretta Long), Ashford & Simpson, The Last Poets, Carmen de Lavallade, Amiri Baraka, Al Green, Earth, Wind and Fire and a young Patti Labelle along with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash were all given a television platform through Ellis Haizlip.
A graduate of Howard University, Haizlip set the vibe of the times and changed the minds of what and how Americans viewed what Black American culture was really all about. It was the first time we saw the likes of Nikki Giovani, James Baldwin and even the famed leader of the Nation of Islam – Honorable Elijah Mohammed.
Not unlike the times we live in today, amidst the Vietnam War and other hot button political issues in America, the Nixon Administration saw SOUL! and its very existence on public television as a threat to the fiscal budget and American ideals…in general. Amazing how much things change over the decades yet remain the same.
Thanks to Melissa Haizlip and Sam Pollard, Ellis Haizlip’s legacy is now preserved and shared for future generations. Another chapter of American history has been opened and will remind every person of color in America that in this age of protests #metoo and #icantbreathe, it only takes one voice to make a lasting difference. For five years on public television, Ellis Haizlip was and continues to be that voice.
Mr. Soul! made its World Wide Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22nd with a #SOUL50: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to SOUL! Hosted by Blair Underwood – Featuring performances from Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Kyle Abraham, DJ Jahi Sundance, Sade Lythcott, Kathleen Cleaver and The Last Poets: Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Felipe Luciano.
It recently won the audience award at the AFI DOCS film festival where I had a chance to speak with Panel Guest Nikki Giovanni, Chaz Ebert and Director Melissa Haizlip. Check out the interviews below…