Widely recognized as the impresario of Black arts and culture, Ellis B. Haizlip devoted a lifetime of artistic excellence to the communication of Black perspectives through stage and television productions. His mission, in his own words, was “to sensitize and involve the total community in the lifestyle and rhythm” of Black Americans.
Mr. Soul! – The Movie
Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was Mr. SOUL!” On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, one fearless black pioneer reconceived a Harlem Renaissance for a new era, ushering giants and rising stars of black American culture onto the national television stage. He was hip. He was smart. He was innovative, political, and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, this man ensured the Revolution would be televised. The man was Ellis Haizlip. The Revolution was SOUL!
Melissa Haizlip, niece of Ellis Haizlip is producing a documentary about her uncle’s legacy. Melissa founded Shoes In The Bed Productions in 2009, an independent film production company producing cinematic works of non-fiction with an emphasis on diverse new voices and filmmakers of color. The company’s first feature-length documentary, Mr. SOUL! celebrates the groundbreaking PBS series from its genesis to its eventual loss of funding against the backdrop of a swiftly changing political and social landscape, while profiling Ellis Haizlip, the charismatic man behind one of the most culturally significant and successful television shows in U.S. history.
The Mr. Soul! team is looking for support to finish this important film. Please support their kickstarter campaign – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mrsoul/mr-soul-the-movie
Mr. Soul! was was featured during IFP’s Independent Film Week 2010, Spotlight on Documentaries Forum, and is a participant in the 2011 Producers Guild of America Diversity Workshop. Mr. SOUL! screened at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 41st Annual Independent Film Series in 2011. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Women Make Movies is recommended for a Spring 2012 NEA Arts in Media grant, to support production and post production costs of Mr. SOUL!
Ellis B. Haizlip
Born in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1929, Haizlip was the second of four children. After graduating from Howard University in 1954, he did his post graduate studies at Brandeis and was accepted into the prestigious School of Drama at Yale. Haizlip began his career in New York in the early ’50’s, producing an extraordinary array of dramatic, theatrical and musical shows, featuring the works of James Baldwin, Lloyd Richards, Langston Hughes and the early Alvin Ailey Dance Company. He went on to produce concerts and performances in Europe and the Middle East. He also produced a concert tour for Marlene Dietrich.
In 1968, amidst the turbulent aftermath of the Harlem riots and under the watchful eye of the Kerner Commission, the director of New York City’s public television station, WNET/ Channel 13 decided to produce an all-Black variety show. The Emmy award-winning series SOUL! was the brainchild of Ellis Haizlip. SOUL!, which ran from 1968 to 1973, was described as “a meeting place for Black ideas and Black talent with undertones of New York’s Apollo Theater.” Part nightclub, part salon, it was precedent-setting and bar-raising: an Afrocentric television variety showcase created by a Black man, produced by a an all-Black production team, and targeting a nationwide, Black American audience. SOUL! featured classic live performances by up-and-coming funk, jazz, soul and world musicians, juxtaposed with in-depth interviews with actors, literary figures, prominent politicians and intellectuals. Haizlip championed early acts such as Ashford and Simpson, Roberta Flack, Al Green, Billy Taylor, Patti LaBelle and Stevie Wonder, pairing them alongside James Baldwin, Sidney Poitier, Toni Morrison, Anna Maria Horsford, Louis Farrakhan, Cicely Tyson, The Last Poets, Nikki Giovanni, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka,) Jesse Jackson, and James Earl Jones.
Haizlip became affectionately known as “Mr. Soul,” as he continued to promote the world of African American culture and art throughout his lifetime. In 1972 and 1973, at the height of the show’s success, Lincoln Center invited Haizlip to produce Soul at the Center, a critically acclaimed, twelve-day black arts festival at Lincoln Center.
After a very public battle to keep SOUL! on the air despite a shifting political landscape, the show ended in 1973. Haizlip remained at WNET through 1981, producing Watch Your Mouth, an educational series geared towards inner city teens. His work awarded him many prestigious honors over the years, including an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Malcolm X College in Chicago and the Israel Festival Silver Medal for The Amen Corner. December 6, 1988 was proclaimed Ellis Haizlip Day by the President of the Borough of Manhattan, an honor Haizlip highly cherished.
SOUL! was a seminal moment in American broadcast history, a turning point and a transition in an era of immense struggle. It marked the emergence and widespread acceptance of black culture and entertainment on television. Haizlip, who died of lung cancer on January 25, 1991, left behind both a legacy and a show, which, to this day, remains unequalled in cultural relevance and significance.
Trivia From IMBD
SOUL! was conceived in 1968 as the first “Black Tonight Show.” Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles appeared on the very first episode of SOUL! on Sept. 12, 1968. SOUL! was the creation of Ellis B. Haizlip, at the time the only Black producer at WNET Channel 13, which was then called NET (National Educational Television). Haizlip, along with many emerging and musicians, hosted the show, which aired 130 episodes on Thursday nights out of New York from 1968 to 1973. Ellis Haizlip was instrumental in launching the careers of Anna Maria Horsford, Ashford & Simpson and many Black icons of the twentieth century. Arsenio Hall appeared on the SOUL! show on April 22, 1971. He was fifteen-years-old, performing magic tricks. In 1979, Ellis Haizlip produced Michael Jackson’s 21st birthday party at Studio 54. December 6, 1988 was proclaimed Ellis Haizlip Day by the President of the Borough of Manhattan. In 1995, the Ellis B. Haizlip Papers were acquired by the National African American Museum Project, curated by Deb Willis for the Anacostia Community Museum Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Ellis Haizlip’s favorite quote: “It’s been beautiful!’
Soul! December 13, 1972 : Black Fire
Actress Cicely Tyson and bluesman Taj Mahal talk about the movie Sounder, which starred Tyson and Mahal; Mahal also does some selections from his soundtrack to it. Exuma, a folksinger who uses some Bahamian rhythms, also performs. Hosted by Ellis Haizlip.
Soul! November 1, 1972
Funk/soul collective New Birth, Inc. with the Nite-Liters; doo-wop group the Moonglows.
Host: DJ Gerry Bledsoe
Soul! November 29, 1972 : Journey To The Sun
Actor Ron O’Neal talks about Superfly and his career; Singer/songwriter Zulema; and funk-jazz ensemble Black Heat, featuring David ‘Fathead’ Newman. Hosted by Ellis Haizlip.
Soul! January 10, 1973
“Elements”, with Earth, Wind & Fire and Linda Hopkins & the Soul Quintet.
Soul! March 1, 1972 : The Young People’s Show
“The Young People’s Show”
Soul! October 4, 1972
An evening with free-jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and his group.
Soul! November 15, 1972 : Shades of Soul, Part I
“Shades of Soul, Part I”
One of two episodes devoted to the Latin side of Soul!.
Soul! November 17, 1971
Soul! October 11, 1972
A Night with Ashford and Simpson at ‘Club Soul!’