SOUL! exhibited the imprint of Haizlip’s creative direction, immaculate taste, and expertise as what we now call an “influencer.” Individuals such as Roberta Flack, Ashford & Simpson, Al Green, Louis Farrakhan, Bill Withers, The Delfonics, Muhammad Ali, Stokely Carmichael, and McCoy Tyner appeared on the program (minus teleprompters). The atmosphere of the show was electrified by its live format. Live action and reactions from the audience along with Haizlip’s modest personality brought the viewers powerful conversations, while the host never dominated the discussion.
SOUL! quickly amassed a following in New York, but just as funding was running out, it was picked up by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It ran for five years, giving the viewing and live audiences Haizlip’s vision: “for the audience to appear in relationship to a performance that [they are] enjoying as opposed to a performance that is being presented for [them].” In this way, a viewer might ‘catch the flavor’ of people interreacting. Some sort of exchange was going on.”
Though the show was unique, a huge success, and made an undeniable impact, it was a battle to keep it on the air. Haizlip was pressured to tone down the “blackness” of the show and was encouraged to have more whites on. Couple this with the presidential changing of the guard from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, and SOUL! was in trouble. Fortunately, a 3.5 million grant provided by the Ford Foundation helped sustain the program. As well, a campaign garnered over 100,000 letters–some from white viewers.
Haizlip did not mince words in his public service announcements. He expressed to the Washington Post, “The cancellation of SOUL! is part of a policy to destroy all Black programming on the network.” He told Jet magazine, “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting … preferred a sociological production rather than a cultural one, which is no reason for canceling SOUL!”
The last episode of SOUL! aired March 7, 1973, ending another era where an unapologetically SGL (same-gender-loving) Black man was at the forefront and was the razor’s edge for cultural and socioeconomic issues in America. Haizlip left the station after the program ended but returned five years later with a new entry titled Watch Your Mouth.
This new show starred Joe Morton as an imaginative language arts teacher with students of various ethnic/cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, just 10 of the 28 shows were shown before it was pulled, airing only in the New York area. Ron Devillier, PBS director of programming administration during the time, stated that the program was “important and that we should run something.”
Haizlip would not live long after Watch Your Mouth ended: in the 1980s, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and later with a brain tumor. The trailblazer passed away on January 25, 1991.
Ellis Haizlip is proof that one person can be the spearhead of a revolution, and that an SGL (same-gender-loving) man is no exception. He’s proof that…