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‘Mr. SOUL!’ Documentary About America’s First Black Talk Show To Air On PBS

The documentary was directed by Melissa Haizlip, niece of ‘Soul!’ host Ellis Haizlip.

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Mr. SOUL! Documentary
Photo: Courtesy of PR

PBS will be airing the documentary Mr. SOUL! about the 1960s Black talk show SOUL! on February 22.

Directed by Melissa Haizlip, niece of SOUL! host and creator Ellis Haizlip, the piece explores the impact of what is considered America’s first Black variety talk show.

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SOUL! ran from 1968 to 1973 with Haizlip as its host holding conversations about Black music, poetry, literature, politics and more. Despite beginning locally in New York, the show was broadcasted nationwide on PBS a year after its launch. Across over 130 hour-long episodes, the show featured interviews and live performances by James Baldwin, Patti LaBelle, Kool & the Gang, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali, Al Green, Roberta Flack, Toni Morrison, Kathleen Cleaver, and dozens more.

“I have wanted to make this film for my entire life, having a deep personal connection to the story I’ve actually lived,” Melissa Haizlip wrote of the film. “Ellis Haizlip was my uncle; a huge inspiration to many others and me. I was a little girl when Uncle Ellis moved into our Upper West Side home in New York City, around the time SOUL! was born. I remember eating oatmeal at midnight with my uncle and the guest stars he would bring home after taping the show. I would bask in the glow of all these intelligent, glamorous Black people, mesmerized by my uncle’s coterie of magical friends.”

SOUL! was created in hopes of providing a platform for Black culture in America through artists, activists, community leaders, politicians, and performers. Now, Mr. SOUL! will do the same by highlighting the work of Ellis Haizlip, more than four decades after the show’s conclusion, that paved the way for talk shows from Oprah, Arsenio Hall, and more Black cultural figures.

The Mr. SOUL! documentary features an original score composed and performed by Robert Glasper and includes archival footage of the series. The film also was recently awarded Best First Documentary Feature at the 2020 Critic’s Choice Awards.

Mr. SOUL! is an exploration of the birth of diversity in cultural expression and its very existence on national television; a love letter to Black culture, Black history, Black excellence, Black art and Black lives,” Melissa Haizlip said.

Read more about how to watch Mr. SOUL! here.

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