Before there was Arsenio Hall, 90s Montel Williams, or 2K Steve Harvey there was the 60s Soul! talk show host, Ellis Haizlip. Haizlip’s niece and filmmaker Melissa Haizlip has produced a documentary called Soul! about her uncle’s Black power TV series called, Soul!. Ellis Haizlip was a proud Black out-and-gay TV host on public television who began his production career during his days at Howard University. Soul! was developed to become a platform by and for Black performers representing all aspects of Black culture. Mainstream media, during those times, overwhelmingly catered to a white audience. When it did showcase black individuals, they were seen on TV in a negative light. There was no positive representation or voice of black culture on mainstream TV.
Haizlip was one the first black host to feature black music artists, and performers in theater, poetry, activism, politics, and more. He was also the first Black producer at PBS’s WNET/WNDT production company. He also produced dance performances, plays with James Baldwin, and shows including the European Tour. In addition to Black New World in Holland, Black Nativity in Italy, The Emperor Jones, The Amen Corner, and Trumpets of the Lord.
How Ellis Haizlip Started Soul!
While working at PBS WNET as a producer Haizlip was approached by Christopher Lukas, a WNET white director of cultural programming, to create an arts program for a Black audience. The original host, Dr. Alvin Poussaint didn’t last long but Haizlip took the stage showcasing a variety of conceptualized programs to commemorate the diversity of Black music, culture, and civil rights issues. The show came around a revolutionary time where Black pride and Black power were becoming the black social construct in America and Soul! was the perfect place for it.
Soul! was on air for 5 years from 1968 to 1973. It became a household name in Black homes by celebrating Black culture and offering an undiluted black show. The show had a variety of Black legendary guests like Al Greene, Nikki Giovanni, Sidney Poitier, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, Poet Mae Jackson, James Baldwin, and even Stokely Carmichael. Haizlip allowed others like Felipe Luciano to produce their own shows introducing to his audience Latin Performers like the Puerto Rican King of Mambo, Tito Puente.
Haizlip As A Gay Man
Birthed in Washington, D.C., in 1929, Haizlip was an out gay man. He never hid his sexuality from the public and he even interviewed Louis Farrakhan and asked him if Black gays and lesbians can serve the Nation of Islam. Haizlip was not afraid to go outside the box and be open to different ideologies, and religious and political organizations. Soul! represented Black pride in all forms. Soul! had a majority all-Black female innovative team—from the cameraman, producers, and established developers. Among them was Alice Hille, who was the associate producer of the Miss Black America Beauty Pageant and the first to become an associate producer on a nationwide Television collection. The audience was also majority Black.
Unfortunately, by 1973 the show became a big threat and financing stopped rolling in. Toward the end of its run Haizlip was under severe pressure to incorporate the show for white audiences after a backlash due to the overwhelming black dominance, which they saw as a threat. The last episode of Soul! broadcasted aired on Channel 13, on March 7, 1973. Haizlip made no secret as why. He revealed to the Washington newspaper that the reason for termination was because of a policy to ruin all Black programming on the network. He also made references that The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was a sociological manufacturing network rather than a cultural one.
Sadly, Haizlip was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 80s, followed by a brain tumor that quickly developed after. He passed away in 1991 at 61. Check out the docudrama below entailing the story of Host Ellis Haizlip and America’s Original Soul! TV Show