In late 1967, PBS aired the inaugural episode of Ellis Haizlip’s show, SOUL!. Shot at the
WNET studios in New York, it would be the first nationally syndicated television program in
history dedicated solely to African-American culture. Through legendary music and
interviews from the show itself, archive footage and present day discussion, feature
length documentary The story of SOUL! will recount the story of an historic African-
American series and a how it’s ideals and goals affect America today.
With it’s roots in the 1960’s Black Power Movement, SOUL! was not only a vehicle to
promote African-American artistry, community and culture, but also a forum for political
expression and the fight for social justice. Black America had a dream, it had a voice,
and now it had a platform. Arriving during a period of dynamic change in America,
pioneers from every corner of this resonant and burgeoning culture saw the opportunities
that Haizlip’s vehicle provided, and proceeded to get involved. Stevie Wonder, Jesse
Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Miriam Makeba, Al Green, Sidney Poitier, Gladys Knight, Louis
Farrakhan and Nikki Giovanni are just a few of the luminaries that would, for the first time,
collectively communicate their message to the entire country.
Over 30 years have now passed since the last episode of SOUL! was broadcast. A great
deal of progress was made during its 6 year run. And today Hip-Hop music and style is the
single most influential and profitable source of global popular culture. Despite this
progress however, there is a contemporary debate raging about how positive this
progress has been, and what has happened to the goals of these early pioneers. Whilst
Puff Daddy insists that “it’s all about the Benjamins”, Ellis Cashmore argues that “black
culture has been commodified, and that this may actually be counter-productive in the
struggle for racial justice”. And, whilst Russell Simmons has set up the ‘Hip Hop Summit
Action Network’ to battle what has been referred to as “hip hop apathy”, other
entrepreneurs such as Damon Dash vouch as to how they “don’t care. Just give me the
The Story of SOUL!,will explore these monumental developments in African-American
culture, whilst celebrating what is generally considered to be one of the richest eras of
popular music the world has ever known. Some of the greatest recorded performances
by legends such as Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Hugh Masekela will form the
soundtrack. Meanwhile, revolutionary interviews [from the original SOUL! series and the
present day] with giants of African-American culture will form a lasting testament to the
aspirations of a golden age. Examining the results of this truly ambitious social project, we
will also hear from the luminaries of today’s generation. Particularly those, who like Kanye
West and Pharrell Williams, believe the basic message of SOUL! is in need of a revival.
The Story of SOUL! is a cultural, anthropological, political but mostly musical celebration of
a shining era of thought, art and social progress in American history. A monument to
what was, what is, and what may still come to pass.
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