‘It's Been Beautiful’: Soul! and Black Power Television

Oct 21, 2015

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks 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 Amiri Baraka 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.