A Must See Movie: “Thunder Soul”

Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95

It’s Mr. Holland’s Opus meets Stand and Deliver; it’s Drumline meets Dead Poets Society. It’s not a movie about a band, or their music. It’s about the man who inspired them to greatness by making them believe that they could be great. They proved him right. Then, 30 years later, they got together to show him that they remembered what he’d taught them. And I’m not just talking about the music.

The Director’s name was Conrad O. Johnson, Sr., otherwise known as “Prof.” He led the Kashmere Stage Band to undreamed-of heights for an all-Black group of Houston, Texas public high school students in the early ’70s. I’m talking the kind of heights typically found in fairy tales and made-for-TV family drama. But this is all true. Through interviews, rehearsal video, and amazing footage/photos from the band’s heyday, this documentary – Thunder Soul, named after one of the group’s songs – tells the story of the band’s formation, the success they achieved, and the 2008 reunion where alumni came together to play for their “Prof” one more time to say thank you.

The true story of Conrad Johnson & the Kashmere Stage Band. “He gave them everything. Now it’s time to give back.”

Shout out to Executive Producer Jamie Foxx for helping to make this movie possible. Read this article for his thoughts on the film, and why he was so compelled to be a part of it. It’s a good thing he was; it has already won two “Best Documentary Feature” awards, and nine Audience Awards. And counting?

I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of Thunder Soul in Philadelphia (alumni, you will get a chance at Homecoming 2011 if you can’t find it near you before November). It is not often I believe that everyone I know, as well as everyone I don’t know, should see a particular film. But you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll groove, and you’ll leave knowing you’ve just experienced something powerful. And, if you happen to have ever played in a school band, or if you happen to care about kids having arts programs in school, or if you happen to enjoy ‘70s funk, well, then. So much the better. You will like – dare I say, even love – this movie even more.

But you’ll also like it – dare I say, even love it:

  • If you’ve ever had, or not had, the chance to show someone how much they meant to you.
  • If you have ever been a part of a team, in any form.
  • If you’ve ever taught someone how to do something, then felt the rush of pride in seeing them run with it.
  • If you’ve ever learned how to do something, then felt the exhilaration of running with it.
  • If you’ve ever run back to say, “Thank you.”
  • If you’re now thinking about the people you should be thanking.
  • If you’ve ever been in the minority, and been made aware of it by others (as if you didn’t already know).
  • If anyone has ever had low expectations of you that you went on to prove wrong.
  • If anyone has ever had high expectations of you that you went on to prove right.

Don’t let the fact that movie popcorn costs $75 keep you from going to the theater. You can always eat something beforehand.

You know the kind of movie you wished for, and that you said you’d support if it were out there? That anyone, from any background, can see and enjoy? That you can take your family to see, and that everyone, of every age, will actually like? That portrays a diverse array of African-Americans as thinking, feeling human beings rather than as insulting caricatures? That shows positive things happening while still being real? That is uplifting and inspiring without being cheesy? This is that movie, so here’s your chance to support it: find where it’s playing, and see it. Then tell someone about it.

And go ahead, get to that first “Thank you.” You’re about to make someone’s day.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Homecoming Weekend featuring arts and culture, Nicole M., The Arts, The Arts at Penn

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