‘Mr. Soul!’ soundtrack showcases classic sounds of the Black Power era
The collection of music from and inspired by the film documenting the 1960's PBS program 'Soul!' features classic songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips and Patti LaBelle along with new tracks from Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway.
From 1968 to 1973, PBS aired Soul!, a groundbreaking TV program that showcased the best, most progressive artists and activists of Black America at the time. Despite having guests like Al Green, Muhammad Ali, Curtis Mayfield, Earth, Wind & Fire and Stokley Carmichael, the program was largely forgotten after its cancellation.
That is, until a recent documentary, Mr. Soul!, shined a light on the innovative program and its creator/producer, the late Ellis Haizlip. The aim of the show was to provide singers, musicians, and poets, along with activists and thought leaders, a platform to express themselves and their beliefs.
Even with the multitude of artistry and activism presented on Soul!, the music was often the highlight. And now, months after the doc hit streaming platforms, a new soundtrack for the film has been released.
Mr. Soul: Music From and Inspired By The Motion Picture was released on Hillman Grad Records/Def Jam Recordings. The album features nine tracks that either appear in the documentary, including Gladys Knight and the Pips‘ “If I Were Your Woman,” or that were released during the run of the Soul! program.
One of the songs, “Over The Rainbow” by Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, has a special significance in the history of Soul! as it was performed on the pilot episode in 1968.
In 1968, as the intro to the film expressed, Black representation on television came usually with an appearance on the evening news. In the year that saw the assassinations of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and then-Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, hope for equitable treatment of Black Americans seemed dim at best, out of reach at worst.
Enter Haizlip, a gay New York theater producer who helped fashion Soul! for a New York audience via PBS’s WNDT — later WNET — with a Black Tonight Show aesthetic. The show was one of the first examples of unapologetically Black programming, as groups like The Last Poets performed “Die Nigger Die” with righteous indignation before a live TV and studio audience.
On Soul! poet Amiri Baraka could declare “it’s nation time,” and poets and thought leaders of the time, Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin could engage in an intelligent and candid one-on-one conversation.
For this reason, songs like Charles Watts‘ “Express Yourself” and Billy Taylor‘s “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)” are included on the soundtrack. Soul! gave its viewers the agency and inspiration for self-expression in the midst of social upheaval and chaos.
They would also be shown that through the expression of guests like multi-instrumentalist Rashaan Roland Kirk, Afro-Cuban bandleader Tito Puente, and trumpeter Lee Morgan that freedom could be achieved artistically, opening a portal to the creative and rational mind of all who ingested it.
Kool and The Gang‘s “Chocolate Buttermilk” and Donny Hathaway‘s “The Ghetto” are reminders of how Soul! reminded its fans that Blackness was not something to be viewed as a burden. You can embrace your surroundings and overcome your circumstances if only you realize the dignity and charisma that comes from them.
Also included on the album is a new track, the theme to Mr. Soul!, “Show Me Your Soul,” performed by Grammy winners Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway, who co-wrote the song with Muhammad Ayers. “Show Me Your Soul” is a soothing, yet deliberate rallying cry to Black people to acknowledge their regal heritage and understand their light isn’t only made to shine for a moment.
After Soul! was canceled in 1973, it was largely unheralded until Mr. Soul!‘s director Melissa Haizlip, the niece of Ellis Haizlip, refused to allow such an important piece of American TV history to go gently into that good night.
After years of crowdfunding, Mr. Soul! debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018, and was played at over 50 film festivals, winning 17 awards along the way, as previously reported by theGrio. Mr. Soul! has since earned a Critics Choice Award and an NAACP Image Award, according to a news release.
Now, fans can also enjoy a music soundtrack of a time when the revolution actually was televised.
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