Sometimes history is reflected upon in the mirror of time to reveal unsung glories. One such recent revelation has been the rediscovery of the groundbreaking 1968-1973 PBS series, “SOUL!” The show’s deceased host, Ellis Haizlip is now the subject of an upcoming documentary, “Mr. Soul!: Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV,” which launches its Kickstarter campaign with a reception at the National Black Programming Consortium in Harlem on Monday September 24th. The event, which is free and open to the public, includes special guests such as Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets, singer Melba Moore, actress Dr. Loretta Young and more.
The film pays tribute to Haizlip’s first “Black Tonight show,” which featured discussions surrounding socially relevant topics mixed with arts/culture and first ever televised appearances from icons such as Al Green, Ashford and Simpson, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and more. According to Haizlip’s niece and the film’s co-producer, Melissa, “The film will highlight Ellis Haizlip‘s groundbreaking accomplishment in Black history—how one man gave voice to the struggles and successes of the African American community, launching the careers of many of the African American icons of the 20th century while changing the perception of African American art and culture. We also hope to illuminate the journey of Black representation in media—how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go to achieve fairness in the battle for diverse images in media. It’s time to revisit and reintroduce this fascinating moment in Black media history that’s still relevant today.”
It’s been 40 years since the series ended and for Oyewole, it has yet to be matched in its ability to address controversial topics and simultaneously provide enriching arts/culture programming. Oyewole believes this is attributed to greed and commercialism in the television industry. “It is a big commercial madhouse. They are so concerned about money as opposed to the wellbeing of human beings and we don’t have anything that addresses humanity on this level,” he says. “I would like to see another show like ‘SOUL!’ because we need something exclusively Black and powerful at this time.”
One topic that the socially conscious Oyewole may address in his forthcoming new solo project is voter suppression. That issue and many others were discussed during the Apollo Theater and BET Networks’ free community town hall forum, “Vote Like Your Life Depends On It.” The event was held at the Apollo on September 17th and featured a panel including Rev. Al Sharpton who hopes that this initiative will motivate communities of color to vote in the November election. “As we continue pushing back against voter suppression, all of us can and will make sure that we make it to the polls in November no matter what our politics. Far too many sacrificed for us not to,” he notes.
Sacrifices and unsung heroes were the focal point of the new art exhibition “Blackball: Illuminating Negro leagues Baseball.” The exhibition which is on display at the Arts Horizons LeRoy Neiman Art Center is a joint partnership between the Harlem Historical Society, the Harlem Black Yankees, Friends of Colonel Young Park and Abyssinian Development Corporation. Through paintings, fiber art, sculpture, giclée prints and digital renderings the exhibition attempts to celebrate the remarkable strides made by those in Negro League baseball.
Lately, from Haizlip to “Blackball” history is unveiling profound and glorious tales.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.