In 1972/1973, host James Earle Jones, Ahmad Jamal, Bernie Casey, Taj Mahal, The Crusaders, Cicely Tyson, Alex Hakey, Richard Pryor, Jim Brown, Odetta, Alex Haley and many more teamed up to create and broadcast Black Omnibus.

This is the complete 13-episode series PBS series featuring live performances and conversations with the day’s most prominent African American athletes, entertainers and cultural figures.

Black Omnibus was taped before a live studio audience around the time of the famous Wattstax Music Festival. Some of the artists who were scheduled to appear at the festival dropped in for the television show. Most interestingly, Black Omnibus historians surmise that the series “was possibly the only African-American show in its era that featured 100% live music” adding a cultural depth unlike any other show at the time.

Starting out as a live show from New York City, Omnibus was hosted by James Earl Jones and featured everything from discussions about science and the arts to original works by such playwrights as William Saroyan, interviews with celebrated people both inside and outside the arts, and featured performances by many of the most famous actors, singers and dancers of the day.

A more extensive list of the participants:

  • Jim Brown
  • New Birth
  • Eubie Blake
  • The Sylvers
  • Lou Rawls
  • Odetta
  • The Bar-Kays
  • Paul Mooney
  • The Spinners
  • Slappy White
  • Rufus Thomas
  • Richard Pryor
  • Alex Haley
  • Cicely Tyson
  • Taj Mahal and many more!

Timeline wrote “Black Omnibus was a thoughtful response to a segregated and unequal America”. It continued its historical analysis with “The show was revolutionary, but it was also really fun. Rufus Thomas, who’d had hits with “Walking the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken,” showed up on Black Omnibus in electric pink shorts and shirt, complete with matching cape and boots, to talk about the history of black dance and to demonstrate a new dance, “The Funky Robot.” Richard Pryor spoke about his life and career, causing Jones to barely keep it together at times as Pryor charmed him, the studio audience, and anyone watching. And Lou Rawls wowed a smoke-filled studio with a velvety performance of “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down).” Jones managed to seamlessly move from a discussion with a pre-Roots Alex Haley to Willie Bobo’s Latin Jazz, with full recognition that all of it — music, literature, politics — was a vital part of the black experience.

1972/1973 / 360 minutes on 4 discs / English language / A series directed by Robert A. Bowen.


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