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‘It's Been Beautiful’: Soul! and Black Power Television [Part II]

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. concludes his conversation with Dr. Gayle Wald, Professor of English and American Studies at George Washington University and author of ‘It’s Been Beautiful’: Soul! and Black Power Television.

‘Soul!’ on Public Television from 1968 to 1973, was the only national TV show dedicated to cultural and political expressions of Black Power.

This entertainment-variety-talk show was not only a vehicle to promote African-American artistry, community and culture, but also a platform for political expression and the fight for social justice. It showcased classic live musical performances from funk, soul, jazz, and world musicians, and had in-depth, extraordinary interviews with political, sports, literary figures and more. It was the first program on WNET to be recorded with the then-new technology of videotape, and most of the shows were recorded in real-time—not live, but unedited.

In her new book, Wald examine ‘Soul!’ as an archive of feeling; discuss its strategies of connecting African American performers to African American audiences; examine its social and historical conditions of possibility - and eventual demise; and explore what it means to think of "black" television outside of debates about representation. Soul! was where Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire got funky, where Toni Morrison read from her debut novel, where James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni discussed gender and power, and where AmiriBaraka and Stokely Carmichael enjoyed a sympathetic forum for their radical politics.

Helmed by pioneering producer and frequent host Ellis Haizlip, connected an array of African American performers and public figures with a African American viewing audience. In It's Been Beautiful, Wald tells the story of Soul!, casting this influential but overlooked program as a bold and innovative use of television to represent and critically explore African American identity, culture, and feeling during a transitional period in the African American freedom struggle. Musically speaking, ‘Soul!’ refused the division of African American art into high and low culture.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.