On Saturday, October 17, the Taste of Soul family festival, despite of the current COVID-19 pandemic, found a way to bring the energy, spirit, love, essence, and tradition of the beloved festival with the Virtual Taste of Soul Experience, a three-hour program hosted by comedic actress, Kym Whitley, whose beautiful personality and talent was a major highlight of the show. The show was loaded with soulful musical performances from classic R&B, old-school rap, and gospel artists, with community panels, and segments empowering and supporting Black-owned restaurants.
While the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the in-person aspect of the festival, Zafar Brooks, Hyundai’s Director of Corporate Responsibility and Diversity Inclusion, lived up to his title and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He wanted to help continue the festival’s uplifting influence to a hurting community and partnered with Bakewell Media to expand the festival’s outreach from its usual Crenshaw Boulevard setting to a virtual Hyundai Sound Stage. (from top to bottom) Fred Hammond, Montell Jordan, Tamela Mann, En Vogue, and MAJOR (file photos / LA Sentinel)
The Taste of Soul’s planning team worked with Brooks to create a program and line-up that not only entertained, but, in the true fashion of Taste of Soul, provided supportive resources and brought to light ongoing issues in the Black community. Brooks masterfully curated a concert that treated a first-time global audience on a trip down a musical memory lane, literally and virtually. And despite the limitations and challenges, the team produced three hours of original programming.
The Hyundai Sound Stage and Brooks’ vision had become a crowd favorite at Taste of Soul, in the past, hosting major artists such as Brandy, Teddy Riley and Blackstreet, Doug E. Fresh, Ginuwine, and many more. The virtual concert portion of this year’s performances featured music legends from various eras, such as Anthony Hamilton, Montell Jordan, Fred Hammond, MAJOR, En Vogue, Deborah Joy Winans, Tamela Mann, Kool Moe Dee, and the Human Beat Box himself, Doug E. Fresh. These artists gave this festival their best efforts and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
This was history in the making; a rare, close-up, and nostalgic ensemble of award-winning artists who have created some of the biggest hits in music history, not to mention the healing and inspirational gospel music that the show’s audiences are still raving about. It’s important to note that the public can view the Virtual Taste of Soul Experience in its entirety on our website, www.tasteofsoul.org, and on the Taste of Soul Instagram account.
There were also special virtual appearances and messages from long-time Taste of Soul supporters, such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Pastor J. Edgar Boyd, Rev. Dr. Bobby Jones, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Lamman Rucker, Roland Martin, Loni Love, and others from the virtual Hyundai Sound Stage. (from top to bottom) CBS2/KCAL9 Anchor, Pat Harvey, Councilmember Herb Wesson, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congresswoman Karen Bass, and Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. (file photos/ LA Sentinel)
The Panel Discussion portion was hosted by renown CBS2/KCAL9 Anchor, and long-standing festival supporter and festival host, Pat Harvey and guest panelists, Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Mike Gipson and LAUSD School Board Member, George McKenna, who gave us their perspective on the State of Community and how African Americans can best navigate during these trying times of racial injustice and hostility.
There were three produced segments that highlighted local Black-owned restaurants, Hawkins House of Burgers in Watts, CA, along with Mel’s Fish Shack and Chef Marilyn’s in the Crenshaw district. These restaurants have been with Taste of Soul from start and combined, have over 100 years of service in the community. It was imperative that our message appealed to the audience’ understanding of supporting Black restaurants and businesses. The producers brought awareness to veterans introducing them to a local, national, and global audience. Taste of Soul believes in supporting businesses and organizations that support us.
In the previous 14 years of the festival, Taste of Soul has brought good ‘Soul Food’ ‘Good Soul Music,’ and ‘Good Family Resources,’ from job and housing placement, to guides to providing health resources to the families we see every 3rd Saturday in October, on Crenshaw Boulevard. In this 15th annual year, not only did the show go on, but it did so in an authentic and heartfelt way. We hugged, danced, and ‘partied with a purpose’ with the virtual masses, with images from delicious food and family fun from past festivals the community enjoys each year.
And, most importantly, we were thoroughly entertained with ‘GREAT’ live entertainment including relevant social justice messages throughout the show. Through technology and persistence, we Livestreamed an improbable three-hour-long original program for our loyal and new Taste of Soul family. Zafar Brooks, Hyundai’s Director of Corporate Responsibility and Diversity Inclusion (file photo / LA Sentinel
A BIG, BIG THANK YOU to Zafar Brooks and Hyundai, for being the presenting sponsor and the engine that drove this year’s 15th Annual Virtual Taste of Soul Experience. Zafar brought to our living rooms entertainment by A-1 talent at a time that all of our lives needed the joy that music brings to all of us.
Thank you again, Zafar Brooks, and to our other sponsors and partners, Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, South Coast Air Quality Management District, Metropolitan Water District, 94.7 the Wave, Radio Free 102.3 KJLH, CBS2/KCAL9.
(political figures from top to bottom ) Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, Councilmembers, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (file photos / LA Sentinel)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has labeled Taste of Soul the best festival in Los Angeles. It is the largest one-day street festival in California. We will see you next year, bigger and better than ever. Remember to view the Taste of Soul Virtual Experience in its entirety on our website, www.tasteofsoul.org, and on the Taste of Soul Instagram account. Black, Bold, Taste of Soul!
Additional photos collected by Brandon I. Brooks, managing editor / LA Sentinel.