A view from the North The 6th annual Taste of Soul was the biggest yet; they all came out to celebrate community pride and all things soulful. LOS ANGELES - They came from as far north as Oakland, and as far south as San Diego. They came from Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. They came from Compton, Watts, Long Beach, the Antelope Valley, Valencia, Riverside, the Inland Empire, South Los Angeles, and beyond. They came.Over a quarter of a million people came out to celebrate the sixth annual Taste of Soul L.A. Festival on Sat., Oct. 15. Stretching down Crenshaw Blvd. from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to Rodeo Road, the one-day festival brought out Blacks from near and far to celebrate all things soulful.Hosted by the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper and Mothers in Action and radio partners Radio Free 102.3 KJLH and 94.7 FM The Wave along with the city of Los Angeles, the Taste of Soul was presented by AT&T, Chevrolet, Nielsen, and Hill & Knowlton.With four stages of entertainment and over 200 vendors, this year's Taste of Soul served up more than just soul food."I couldn't be happier," said Danny Bakewell Sr., founder of the Taste of Soul and Sentinel publisher after finding out that the 2011 event topped even his expectations in attendance. "The Taste of Soul has always been about pride in community. We have pride and we are a community. I founded this event to put that pride on display for the entire world to see in a way that is uniquely Black and speaks to us as a people. We all have soul. It's in the way we talk, the way we walk, the way we greet each other, in the food we cook, and the music that we make. The Taste of Soul is all of that rolled into one fun fill packed day."Event producer Brenda Marsh Mitchell, founder of Mothers in Action agrees. "This is about the people. The people make the Taste of Soul. Every year it grows bigger and bigger because the people support this event. They look forward to it and when they get here it's like a family reunion on Crenshaw Blvd."With over 250,000 people from all walks of life milling around on Crenshaw Blvd. and disrupted cell service for most of the day in the area that resulted in mobile users only being able text and make outgoing calls, there wasn't one report of a fight or negative incident. While the street was crowded and it was hard to get from one stage to another, people were courteous and friendly and looked out for the elderly, handicapped, and lost children-of which there was an unprecedented number of."We had more lost children than we've ever had this year," commented the Sentinel. "But the community came together and brought the kids to our office and we kept them company until their parents came for them. Some were scared but we took great care and pride in making them feel comfortable and safe, and all of the children were eventually reunited with their parents."Six-year-old Jeffrey Everett said that next year, he wants to be on stage after being mesmerized by children his age who performed this year."My big brother Gregory and I have a rap group called Higher Learning and next year I want to be on the stage performing."Jeffrey's father, native Angelino, filmmaker, and West Coast hip-hop historian Gregory Everett said that while his son was checking out the different children's groups performing, he was proud of the brothers he saw from different sets at the Taste of Soul with their families."I definitely saw a lot of dudes from opposing sets on Crenshaw, but nobody was beefing or even trying to start beef. They were there to enjoy the event like everyone else and for me having once been in a gang that meant a lot. It showed that there are some things that are bigger than gangs and that's the larger community."Entertainment rundownCrowd favorites included a special guest appearance by rapper and actress Queen Latifah on the Music Free KJLH stage with hip-hop's Naughty By Nature.State Attorney General Kamala Harris made a special appearance and was received enthusiastically by the crowd.Facebook and Twitter were abuzz after a knockout performance by legendary singer Lenny Williams who easily walks away with the best performance at the Taste of Soul this year proving that he's still got it.Al B. Sure lit up The Wave stage located at King Blvd. along with performances by Naturally 7, Ray Fuller, and jazz favorite Mark Allen Felton. Hosted by The Wave's own Pat Prescott, it was a jazz lover's paradise.And even though it was getting late and the sun was going down, the crowd made it clear they weren't leaving the Music Free KJLH stage until singer and actor Tyrese had finished his set.One of the most anticipated performances at this year's event belonged to soultress N'Dambi. Featured on Fox 11's Good Day L.A. promoting this year's Taste of Soul, fans of N'Dambi could hardly wait to see her hit the stage.Hip-hop's Naughty by Nature proved they still got it--and the people still want it, nearly 20 years since their debut.Other crowd favorites this year also included songstress Goapele who glistened in the sun as she sang before a crowd of thousands melodically swaying to the rhythm.Soul Train's Don Cornelius came out in person to personally oversee the world's largest Soul Train line hosted by KJLH. Meanwhile, The Wave stage went for the record with the world's largest Cupid Shuffle.Who's who in the houseWhen they weren't walking up and down Crenshaw Boulevard, local and state elected officials were found mixing and mingling with community leaders at a V.I.P. staging area hosted at the Sentinel newspaper. Among the who's who included: State Attorney General Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Laura Richardson, councilmembers and Taste of Soul co-chairs Bernard Parks Sr., Herb Wesson, Jr., Jan Perry (for Mayor), and Eric Garcetti, co-chairs Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, and Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilmember Mike Feuer, favorite Assembymembers Holly Mitchell and Mike Davis, Assembly candidate Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Compton Councilmember Dr. Willie Jones, L.A.P.D. Chief Charlie Beck, L.A.P.D. Community Relations Director Lt. Fred Booker, KJLH Front Page host Dominique DiPrima and station general manager Karen Slade, Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes, Fabian Wesson, Bobbie Parks, Bobbie Jean Anderson, singer, N'Dambi, singer Kelly Price, along with actress Vanessa Bell Calloway at the Susan G. Komen booth representing for Breast Cancer Awareness month, F.A.M.E's Bishop John Hunter, Inglewood's Bishop Johnnie Young, and all the way from Richmond, California, Councilmember Nathaniel Bates among others.Crowd favorite Congresswoman Maxine Waters danced on the KJLH stage to thunderous applause. Sanctified stages and holy voicesNew this year was the addition of a two stages dedicated to gospel and praise music.The Gospel Stage sponsored by First A.M.E. Church, Radio Free 102.3 KJLH, First 5 LA, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, and Councilmember Bernard Parks and produced by Denise Hunter, of F.A.M.E. and Niele Anderson for PLB Media.Set up just outside of the Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times headquarters, highlights of the Gospel Stage included the Let's Move L.A. flashmob that featured hundreds of people spontaneously breaking out into a choreographed dance routine to Mary Mary's "Get Up" and "Walking." The panel discussion "Living the First Ladies Life...First Ladies Unplugged" which featured local First Ladies discussing life behind the scenes of the church while struggling with maintaining and growing their own personal identity in the shadows of their husbands brought out thousands of women eager to hear the conversation. Greater Zion Family Church's Voices of Destiny of Compton, winner of the 2012 Verizon's How Sweet the Sound contest brought down the house with their soulful praise along with Family Life Center Sanctuary choir, who is on their way to the 2011 nationals for this year's contest. Live performances featured national recording artists Joint Heirs, Isaac Thompson, DP, Vicky Mac Presents Squeaky Entertainment, Nigeria's Izik 5.Just across the way, the Praise Stage was live with performances by Life Church International Bishop Frederick and Dr. Ericka Barr and Abraham McDonald. Produced by Adrienne M. Moore, M.I.F.T., Tori Bailey, M.S.L.M., Phelicia Wright, Patricia Wooten, and Dr. Helen Sellers, the Praise Stage was a welcome addition to the Taste of Soul line-up. Recycling Black DollarsAs attendees trekked from stage to stage they were greeted along the way by over 200 vendors. Some selling food, others offering information, many showcasing the latest designs in hats, earrings, purses, and clothes-the Taste of Soul offered local businesses and entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with African-American consumers directly-which many say is key to their survival during this economic downturn."The exposure to new customers at the Taste of Soul is significant," said Muriel Jones, owner of Shabazz Seafood Restaurant. "I've participated in the festival for each of the past five years and my business has grown by 25 percent. I attribute that growth directly to Taste of Soul because of the immediate increase in new customers and the steady flow of repeat customers throughout the year." For businesses like Shabazz, the Taste of Soul is an important event in a city that has seen the disappearance of more than half of its community events geared towards African-Americans. While there are more events than ever geared towards Los Angeles' ever growing Latino community, events like the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire where vendors like Shabazz had three weekends in Los Angeles to showcase their products have all but disappeared leaving the Taste of Soul as one the last few events standing."We had so many people coming to our booth that we hardly had time to sit down," said B.T. Expressions owner William B.T. Taylor. "We sell hand-made, uniquely designed jewelry and sales have always been high at Taste of Soul. Our brand awareness accelerates after each festival and we get calls all year long from Taste of Soul customers. I wouldn't miss it." "The turnout and positive interaction at the festival is great, said Ryan Legaux, general manager of the popular Harold & Belle's Creole Restaurant." It's an invaluable tool that reminds people we're still here. We see many people coming to the restaurant immediately after the festival closes, but also many others returning throughout the year. It's like they know we're here, but the festival motivates them to come back, especially those that haven't visited us in a while."These comments sum up the need for Taste of Soul founder Danny Bakewell Sr. to continue fighting to make sure the event happens every year."As much as the Taste of Soul is about music and good food, it's about business," Mr. Bakewell explains. "African-Americans are a consumer powerhouse. The Taste of Soul provides the environment for us to support Black owned businesses and entrepreneurs in our community--something that's very important to me."Information on the 2012 Taste of Soul can be found online at tasteofsoulla.org along with thousands of photos and videos from this year's event. An online directory featuring this year's vendors will also be available year round to keep the community connected with the vendors they met this year."It's all a part of growing the Taste of Soul and growing our community," says Danny Bakewell Jr., event producer. "The Taste of Soul may be one day of the year, but the benefits and connections made last a lifetime. We're using modern technology to not only benefit the consumer but our vendors as well."Speaking on next year's event, Taste of Soul founder Danny Bakewell Sr., said "I hope to see everyone back on Crenshaw next year because it's going to be even bigger than this year."Follow the Taste of Soul on Twitter @TasteofSoulLA and on Facebook under Taste of Soul L.A.