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Thunder Soul

Gail Choice | 10/19/2011, 5 p.m.

Every now and then a film comes along that just brings joy and laughter to your soul. Add to the mix funk and you've got the much celebrated documentary "Thunder Soul."

In Houston, Texas, in the late 1960s, musician and composer Conrad O. Johnson, widely known as "Prof," took a job as music director at the predominantly Black Kashmere High School, where he would go on to transform the school's struggling jazz band into a full-fledged funk powerhouse.

It was the 1970s. High school marching bands played marching music, John Philip Sousa and the like, nothing with a beat or any soulful rhythm. But something wonderful happened at Kashmere that made the world take notice.

According to their website, in the early 1970s, national high school stage band competitions were fiercely competitive, strictly conservative, and almost entirely White. Not only did Prof break the color barrier and get his kids into these competitions, he flipped the script by rearranging all of his band's music into elaborate funk arrangements.

He changed the band's look, encouraging members to embrace their own inimitable style. He then introduced the element of showmanship, with each section choreographing slick moves with their instruments--unprecedented at the time. Finally, he unleashed his band on the competition scene, where against tremendous odds, they would go on to triumph again and again.

From 1968 to 1977, the Kashmere Stage Band won a record number of titles around the nation and invitations to perform in Europe and Japan. Prof and the band made history when they won Most Outstanding Stage Band in the Nation at the highly prestigious All-American High School Stage Band Festival in Mobile, Ala., in 1972, the very same year that state's segregationist Gov. George Wallace would announce a run for the presidency.

Not only did the band bring recognition to the high school that supported the program, but people say it brought the community together in support of the band. You have to keep in mind that racism was still very firmly in place, but these teens, with the help of Prof Johnson and the pride of the community, did what no Black high school band had ever done before.

Fast forward to February 2008, 30 former Stage Band members, all in their 50s reunited for the first time in 35 years to pay tribute to Prof Johnson. Some former members hadn't picked up their instrument in years, but that didn't stop them from participating in a musical tribute to 92-year-old Prof Johnson.

"Thunder Soul" highlights that historical reunion. The film is a warm, funny, touching documentary that is honest to the bone and will rock your soul.

Visit their website at http://thundersoulmovie.com to see great pictures from "back in the day."

This is a great film to take your young children and teens to see. It will give them a glimpse of your teen years; you know, the afros and bell bottoms, and the music you enjoyed. Plus it will show them how one man with vision and a dream can truly impact the lives of those around him, even the world.

"Thunder Soul" can be seen locally at The Rave in the Crenshaw Plaza and a Culver City Plaza 6 now. Please check these locations for showing times.

Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com