Look Out! ‘Soul’ Is Back

BY Arts Desk  February 13, 2009 at 6:19 PM EST

'Soul' on WNETIn September 1968, WNET began airing an hour-long, all-black variety show Thursday nights. It showcased funk, jazz and soul musicians, and had interviews with leading politicians, writers and thinkers. The show was called “Soul,” and the list of people who were on it during its 39-week run is staggering:

Muhammad Ali; James Baldwin; Stokely Carmichael; the Delfonics; Earth, Wind & Fire; Louis Farrakhan; Nikki Giovanni (a frequent host); Al Green; Patti LaBelle; Miriam Makeba; Curtis Mayfield; Toni Morrison; Tito Puente; Max Roach; Stevie Wonder. It ranged from well-established acts to the more avant-garde — just witness Rahsaan Roland Kirk & the Vibration Society from October 4, 1972.

So it was great to hear from WNET this week that the station is starting to post “as many episodes as we can from the program.” Also great, reading the original announcement of the show sweetly stating: “Music for Soul! will be provided by a live orchestra. The show will be in color and have the added excitement and spontaneity of a studio audience.”

“Soul” was the creation of Ellis B. Haizlip, at the time the only African-American producer at WNET, which was then called NET (National Educational Television). Haizlip also hosted the show, which aired in New York from 1968 to 1973. Thursday night TV during those six years must have been amazing; without question I’d take a lineup of Max Roach, Bobby Hebb and the Persuasions over “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

Here’s a link to WNET’s ‘Soul’. Six episodes are up so far.