name =Wattstax

caption = The movie poster for the film "Wattstax"
starring = The Staple Singers Richard Pryor
Rufus Thomas
Kim Weston
Johnnie Taylor The Bar-Kays
Isaac Hayes
Albert King
director =Mel Stuart
music= | distributor =Columbia Pictures
released =February 4 1973
runtime =98 min.
language =English
website = http://www.wattstax.com/
amg_id = 1:132915
producer =Larry Shaw
Mel Stuart
budget= |

"Wattstax" is a 1973 documentary film by Mel Stuart that focused on the 1972 Wattstax music festival and the African American community of Watts in Los Angeles, California. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Documentary Film in 1974.


100,000 brothers and sisters turning on to being black...telling it like it is!

The Concert

The concert was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on August 20, 1972 and organized by Memphis's Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots. Wattstax was seen by some as "the Afro-American answer to Woodstock". In order to enable as many members of the black community in L.A. as possible, tickets were sold for only $1.00 each. The Reverend Jesse Jackson gave the invocation, which included his "I Am - Somebody" poem, which was recited in a call and response with the assembled stadium crowd. Interspersed between songs are interviews with Richard Pryor, Ted Lange and others who discuss the black experience in America.


The film begins with an introduction by Pryor. This is followed by shots of urban life on the streets of Watts, accompanied by the song "What You See Is What You Get" by The Dramatics. Mel Stuart wasn't terribly happy about the full concert footage and had the Pryor interludes between certain songs and live shots of urban life in the city. Stuart felt he wanted someone to narrate between the scenes to create a transition in a comedic but meaningful way. Scenes of the concert being set up while the song "Oh La De Da" by the Staple Singers play followed by showing the crowds entering the stadium with another Dramatics song playing, "We the People".

The first song played in concert is the "Star-Spangled Banner" performed by Kim Weston while the audience sits. An introduction by Jesse Jackson who encourages the audience with their right fist in the air while he performs his poem "I Am Somebody". Kim Weston follows this up with a performance of the "Black National Anthem"; "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing". While she sings the audience is more invigorated to stand and still have their fists in the air while the song is intercut with images from African-American history. Following this scene is a performance of "Somebody Bigger Than You and I" by Jimmy Jones.

A brief discussion about religion is followed by a performance of "Lying on the Truth" by Gospel band The Rance Allen Group. This is inter-cut with shots of various churches around Watts. The song "Peace Be Still" is heard, and eventually seen performed by The Emotions in a local church. This is followed by another brief discussion of Gospel music with a performance of "Old-Time Religion" performed by "The Stax Golden 13" which included William Bell, Louise McCord, Debra Manning, Eric Mercury, Freddy Robinson, Lee Sain, Ernie Hines, Little Sonny, Eddie Floyd, the Newcomers, the Temprees, and Frederick Knight. After a brief interlude with Richard Pryor, Melvin Van Peebles introduces the Staple Singers who play "Respect Yourself" in concert.

The Bar-Kays follow another montage commentary on African-American identity. The Bar-Kays saxophonist speaks saying, "freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude" (later made famous when they were sampled by Public Enemy in "Show 'Em Whatcha Got"). The Bar-Kays then play "Son of Shaft." This is followed by a montage of conversations about unemployment and crime in Watts. Following this is a brief performance of Albert King playing "I'll Play The Blues for You" which is quickly cut to another conversation with the people of Watts about blues music, depression. An unusual piece of footage is shown of performance of "Walking the Backstreet and Crying" by Little Milton. This is shown in a similar style as a music video, with Milton lip-synching the song near a train station with a burning trash can next to it.

That segment is followed by Rufus Thomas talking about a character named "Jody" as being someone who "is that fella, when you leave home at six o'clock, he's in that house at six-one". This is followed by shots of various rich African Americans exiting their expensive cars and stereotypical pimp clothing, while the song "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" by Johnnie Taylor is being performed in a night club. This is followed by a sketch with Richard Pryor discussing gambling. A montage of couples in Watts is shown while a discussion about dating and romance is heard, with "I May Not Be What You Want" performed by Mel and Tim in the background. The scene then changes to a performance of "Picking Up the Pieces" by Carla Thomas. During this song, several red, black and white balloons are released in the stadium. More conversation about gender roles and romance in the African-American society.

In the next segment, Rufus Thomas performs "The Breakdown" and "Do the Funky Chicken." This is followed by another interlude with Pryor then a cover of "If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right" by soul singer Luther Ingram. After the final interlude, Isaac Hayes enters the stadium to a large audience reaction. In the original version, MGM, the studio which had the rights to the songs "Theme from Shaft" and "Soulsville," didn't allow the film makers to use the songs in the film, so the song "Rolling Down A Mountain" was performed on a sound stage made to look like Wattstax at a later date. [citation|last=Bowman|first=R|year=1997|title=Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records|page=293] These songs are restored on Region 1 DVD release of the film. The camera pans out at the end of the stadium showing several people during the interludes in the film while the speech "I Am Somebody" is being shouted again followed by "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" as the credits roll.

Later developments

In September 2004, the PBS series "P.O.V." aired a new documentary about the concert and the movie. That same month, the movie was released on DVD.French distribution: Mission Distribution


Songs in the film

In order of appearance:
* "What You See Is What You Get", performed by The Dramatics
* "Oh La De Da", performed by the Staple Singers
* "We the People", performed by the Staple Singers
* "Star-Spangled Banner", performed by Kim Weston
* "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing", performed by Kim Weston
* "Respect Yourself", performed by the Staple Singers
* "Someone Greater Than I", performed by Jimmy Jones
* "Lying on the Truth", performed by the Rance Allen Group
* "Peace Be Still", performed by The Emotions
* "Old-Time Religion", performed by William Bell, Louise McCord, Debra Manning, Eric Mercury, Freddy Robinson, Lee Sain, Ernie Hines, Little Sonny, the Newcomers, Eddie Floyd, the Temprees, Frederick Knight
* "Son of Shaft/Feel It", performed by The Bar-Kays
* "I'll Play The Blues For You", performed by Albert King
* "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone", performed by Johnnie Taylor
* "Walking the Back Streets and Crying", performed by Little Milton
* "I May Not Be What You Want", performed by Mel and Tim
* "Pick Up the Pieces", performed by Carla Thomas
* "Do the Funky Chicken", performed by Rufus Thomas
* "If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right", performed by Luther Ingram
* "Theme from Shaft", performed by Isaac Hayes
* "Soulsville", performed by Isaac Hayes

Other songs in the concert

* "Knock on Wood", performed by Eddie Floyd
* "Lay Your Loving On Me", performed by Eddie Floyd
* "I Can't Turn You Loose", performed by the Bar-Kays
* "Killing Floor", performed by Albert King
* "Angel of Mercy", performed by Albert King
* "Gee Whiz", performed by Carla Thomas
* "I Have A God Who Loves", performed by Carla Thomas
* "I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To", performed by The Soul Children
* "Hearsay", performed by The Soul Children
* "Ain't No Sunshine", performed by Isaac Hayes

Production Credits

* Directed by: Mel Stuart
* Produced by: Larry Shaw, Mel Stuart
* Executive Producers: Al Bell, David L. Wolper
* Associate Producer: Forest Hamilton, Hnic.
* Consultants: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tommy Jacquette. Mafundi Institute, Rev. Jesse Boyd, Teddy Stewart, Richard Thomas, John W. Smith, Sylvester Williams, Carol Hall
* Cinematography: Roderick Young, Robert Marks, Jose Mignone, Larry Clark
* Edited by: Robert K. Lambert, David Newhouse, David Blewitt
* Assistant Director: Charles Washburn
* Concert Unit Director; Sid McCoy
* Production Coordinator: David Oyster
* Music Supervisor: Terry Manning
* Music Recording: Wally Heider, Inc.
* Post Production Supervisor: Philly Wylly
* Concert Artist Staging: Melvin Van Peebles
* Music Conductor: Dale Warren
* Lighting: Acey Dcey
* Production Staff: Jim Stewart, Johnny Baylor, Gary Holmes/Mind Benders, Humanities International, Edward Windsor Wright


ee also

* Watts Riots
* Soul to Soul (film)

External links

* [http://www.wattstax.com Wattstax.com]
* [http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2004/wattstax/index.html P.O.V. Wattstax companion Web site] (featuring streaming audio of performances and a podcast interview with director Mel Stuart)
* [http://media.libsyn.com/media/tsoya/tsoya012006.mp3 MP3 audio interview] with Stax Records expert Rob Bowman on the radio program The Sound of Young America regarding Wattstax
* [http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5888344/ MSNBC Article]
* [http://www.nationalreview.com/potemra/potemra060603.asp National Review article]

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