It was summer 2005 and the conference room at the Los Angeles Sentinel office was abuzz. Sentinel Publisher/ CEO Danny Bakewell Sr. had come up with an idea.
“We are going to have a food festival,” he told the staff.
There would be food vendors, entertainment and a variety of community services free and open to the community. He and the staff (led by the late Brenda Marsh-Mitchell) worked out the details and about four months after the initial meeting Crenshaw Blvd. between Martin Luther King Blvd. and Rodeo Rd. was packed. About 35,000 people showed up on October 16 that year to celebrate what was the first annual Taste of Soul Food and Family Festival.
“I remember when Danny first approached me about the idea,” recalled Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson.
“I thought it was something our community needed and I was all in. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would become the largest street festival and economic empowerment event in all of California.”
The event was a success. Free concerts took place on two major stages (The Beat/KDAY and The Wave ). There was plenty of love and no incidents were reported. In fact, that year, nothing about TOS was reported except by the Sentinel, much to Bakewell Sr.’s dismay.
“It is terrible that when 35,000 African Americans gather in the Black Community to celebrate without incident, to share in a day of unity, love and togetherness, we can’t find a news crew anywhere,” Bakewell Sr. said in October 2005 after the event.
“But let 2 or 3 individuals show up and act a fool on Crenshaw and news crews and helicopters will be all over it, making our community look like it is a war zone.”
By 2006, the second annual TOS, about 5 media outlets not only showed up but became partners with Taste of Soul and took part in the event. Since then, the major family festival has brought millions of people from all over to Crenshaw Blvd. every October. In 2012, Bakewell added the StarQuest stage, giving undiscovered talent the opportunity to shine. Several of the artists have gone on to national acclaim signing with major record labels appearing in national television commercials etc. In Summer of 2013, TOS partnered with the BET Live Experience and AEG to bring a “Taste of a Taste of Soul,” to L.A. Live and give African American restauranteurs an opportunity to participate in a nationally televised event held in the world famous L.A. Live entertainment venue.
“Since the original Taste of Soul in 2005, we have seen Taste of Soul grow at an amazing pace,” said Sentinel Chief of Staff Danny Bakewell Jr.
“In 2010, Taste of Soul had to expand the footprint of the family celebration which now stretches from Rodeo to Stocker with room for additional stages, pavilions and room for more vendors.”
Some ideas have stayed the course while others have been replaced with larger and more exciting ones such as last year’s Taste of Beauty Pavilion which highlighted local hair stylists and hair and beauty products. The gospel stage which in year two was only a small stage in front of the Sentinel offices, has now has grown to feature The McDonalds GospelFest on the Brenda Marsh Mitchell Gospel Stage.
“Since Taste of Soul’s inception we have had incredible growth in terms of our philanthropy and services we are able to provide to the community as well,” said Pamela Bakewell, vice president and COO of the Bakewell Company.
“We have created the Taste of Soul Education and Healthy Living Foundation which allows us to provide scholarships to students. We have been able to host workshops and promote new start up businesses that originally were only vendors at Taste of Soul and other street fairs. Taste of Soul has truly become an institution of its own and I am proud to continue to do the work and implement the vision of its creator Danny Sr. and the organization’s first President Brenda Marsh Mitchell.”
The Beat which was originally owned by Radio One (Cathy Hughes) and who partnered Bakewell Media on the original TOS has been replaced with KJLH, now going into its 10th year as part of the Family Festival.
“When Cathy sold her L.A. Radio Station there was only one African American owned station in the market. We knew as part of our business mantra we had to have an African American radio partner as part of the Taste of Soul Movement, so the choice was simple,” recalled Bakewell Sr.
“I immediately called Karen Slade at KJLH and the partnership was born. 94.7 has also been a major partner from the very start and I would never want to undermine their participation because they were here from the beginning. But having KJLH who works in the community every day, a radio partner who understands the challenges those of us in Black media are faced with is a very important part of the Taste of Soul model.”
Bakewell believes that Taste of Soul will only continue to grow.
“When Brenda and I first discussed Taste of Soul, never would we have imagined that it would grow into the institution it has become,” he said.
“I cannot forget the partners who helped us get it off the ground and who have been with us throughout. Elected officials like Council President Herb Wesson, former Councilmember Bernard Parks, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, former Congresswoman Diane Watson and community and corporate partners like Mothers In Action, The Brotherhood Crusade, Charles Drew, the city and county of Los Angeles. They laid the ground work. Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and the county of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti , Councilmembers Marqueece Harris, Curren Price and the entire city of Los Angeles are setting up to make this year’s Taste of Soul one that our Community, The City of Los Angeles and all of California can enjoy and celebrate”.
This year’s TOS look’s to be bigger and better than ever. With radio partners KJLH and 94.7 The Wave pulling together first class entertainment, the McDonalds GospelFest returning and the return of Children’s Zone, it’s setting up to be the Best Taste of Soul Ever!
See you there!!!