Long before the likes of programs like The Arsenio Hall and The Tavis Smiley Show, a program based out of New York aimed to combine Black entertainment and culture. The SOUL! program was the brainchild of the pioneering Ellis “Mr. Soul” Haizlip which ran from 1968 to 1973.
Haizlip, a native of Washington, D.C., made a mark in industry by becoming PBS station WNET’s first Black producer in the mid-60’s. A white colleague of Haizlip introduced an idea of an arts program catered to Black people who gave Haizlip early seeds to plant for SOUL!’s development.
The first rounds of funding for the program came from The Ford Foundation and other donations from the public and private sector. Haizlip hired mostly Black crews for his programs, including a young director named Stan Lathan, who would go on to Hollywood and is actress Sanaa Lathan‘s father. Hazlip’s show’s featured a diverse line-up of guests and hosts alike. Among some of the many notable figures to be featured at Soul!, names such as Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, The Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan, opera legend Marian Anderson, Ashford Simpson are counted among them.
It was Haizlip’s approach to combining entertainment and enlightenment that garnered high viewership for the popular show. Further, the open expression of Black pride combined with the growing popularity of the Black Power movement was a timely combination for the success of Soul!
Funding for the program ended in 1973 and the live broadcast series thus ended as well. Haizlip publicly decried the lack of funding, claiming racism was its cause. He eventually patched things up with the network years later and returned to work for them.
Haizlip’s story has yet to be told but there have been several attempts to do a documentary on the show. He died of lung cancer 1991.