Mr. Soul!, the revered documentary on the hit PBS TV series, Soul!, has won a Peabody Award. Regarded as “America’s first Black Tonight Show,” the film explores the variety show that ran from 1968 until 1973 and celebrated the unapologetic Black experience, including guiding lights within Black literature, music, poetry, and politics.
Presented by Morgan Freeman, the esteemed actor spoke on the original show’s pioneering impact.
“During its five-year run, it was a celebration of the majesty, the confidence and the revolutionary force of Black artists and intellectuals, writers and performers,” Freeman expressed during the virtual presentation. “It was uncompromisingly and unapologetically Black. And this gem of a show gets the spotlight it deserves in Melissa Haizlip’s documentary, Mr. Soul! Her film offers an enviable range of Black creative expression and stresses how the original show served as a soundtrack of Black Americans at their most radical.”
Haizlip, the documentary’s director, writer, and producer, dedicated the award to her uncle, the original show’s creator, producer, and host, Ellis Haizlip.
“Ellis Haizlip was an extraordinary producer, always pushing the culture forward with light and love and we wanted to do the same thing with this film,” she stated while accepting the award. “Soul! is a love letter to Black culture, to Black love, to Black joy, and to Black lives. Now more than ever, we need a voice like Ellis Haizlip to help restore the soul of a nation.”
Haizlip later thanked three of the film’s executive producers: Stan Lathan, who took over as director of Soul! in 1970, Blair Underwood, and attorney Chaz Ebert. Underwood provided the voice of Ellis Haizlip by reading from interviews, news articles, correspondence, and journal entries. Ellis died of cancer in 1991 at age 61.
Soul! premiered on Sept. 12, 1968, three years before Don Cornelius’ Soul Train launched in syndication in October 1971. Mr. Soul! includes archival footage from the series along with interviews from the likes of Harry Belafonte and James Baldwin, plus performances from Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway co-wrote “Show Me Your Soul” as heard during the end credits. Mr. Soul! premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018 and had a limited theatrical release in August 2020. It began streaming on HBO Max in August 2021.
Peabody Awards are presented for television, podcast/radio, and immersive and interactive media in the categories of entertainment, documentary, news, podcast/radio, arts, children’s and youth, and public service. “The Peabody Awards shine a light on stories that matter and are a testament to the power of art and reportage in the push for truth, social justice, and equity,” as described in its mission statement.
Watch Morgan Freeman present the Mr. Soul! team with their Peabody in full below.