Musical Greats Discuss Influence of PBS’ Landmark Talk Show ‘Soul!’

By Sameer Rao Jun 29, 2018

Ellis Haizlip‘s influence outlasted the half-decade that "Soul!," the talk show he hosted during the late-’60s and early-’70s, aired on PBS. Artists as varied as Questlove, Lalah Hathaway and Valerie Simpson reflected on the show for a retrospective that Okayplayer published yesterday (June 28). 

Interviewees highlighted the ways Haizlip centered Black culture and activism. Melissa Haizlip, Ellis’ niece and the filmmaker behind "Mr. SOUL!," noted how her uncle gave many now-famous Black artists their first televised appearances.

“When Al Green appeared on ‘Soul!,’ it was his first appearance on television and he was so hungry and raw," she said. "[He] showed up at 10 a.m. for sound check, and [director] Stan Lathan said, ‘This kid comes in there and it looked like he hadn’t been home.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if he had just come straight from the club."

Simpson, one half of Ashford & Simpson, mentioned how the show helped the Motown songwriting duo emerge as performers in their own right. 

“It always amazes me when people see something you don’t see in yourself,” Simpson recounted. “Ellis had faith and let us come up with our own program. It was clear that he loved us. We were something he was going to show the world. It was like we were a secret only he knew.”

Questlove said that he and The Roots studied "Soul!" episodes to perfect their live act: "Literally every trick I’ve ever learned in our show, I took from there."

Hathaway, whose father Donny Hathaway performed on "Soul!" for one of his few television appearances, said the show is still be relevant now.

“It was for us, by us,” she reflected. “I would love to host a show like that now. Interview Melissa. Ava. Issa. Colin Kaepernick. I see that happening.”