How Ellis Haizlip showed the complexity of Black culture on the 70s-era TV show ‘SOUL!’

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The J.C. White Choir just after their performance on “SOUL!,” in a scene from the film “Mr. SOUL!” Photo by Alex Harsley, courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions.

Once upon a time in America, there was a TV talk show that was unapologetically Black. Guests were writer James Baldwin, poet Amiri Baraka, religious leader and activist Louis Farrakhan. Musicians like Earth Wind and Fire and Patti LaBelle performed.

It was 1968. There were platform shoes and big afros — and a perspective that existed nowhere else on TV. The show was made by Black people for Black people. It was called “SOUL!”

The host was a mild-mannered man named Ellis Haizlip. His story, and the story of the show, is now being told by his niece, Melissa Haizlip. She has a new documentary called “Mr. SOUL!

“Some folks thought it would be a good idea to make ‘the Black Tonight Show.’ But I think the idea really was to change the public perception of Black america and really to create a space,” says Melissa Haizlip.

(L to R) “SOUL!” director Stan Latham stands with the cameraman during an interview between host Ellis Haizlip and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, in a scene from the film “Mr. SOUL!” Photo by Chester Higgins, Courtesy of Shoes in the Bed Productions.
Credits

Guests:
Melissa Haizlip - writer, director and producer, Blair Underwood - narrator, executive producer and Emmy-winning actor

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Kathryn Barnes