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TEXAS THUNDER SOUL ORIGIN COLUMNIST | Robert Ganger


From 1968 to 1977, the Kashmere Stage Band “broke the color barrier” amidst very conservative, fiercely competitive, and almost exclusively white competitions, shattering the status quo by rearranging all of its music into elaborate funk-jazz hybrids.


Mark Landsman’s Thunder Soul is one of this year’s must-see documentaries. Landsman came across the story in the fall of 2006, tuning into NPR’s All Things Considered to discover some incredible instrumental funk music. Landsman recalls, “The anchor came on to say that the musicians of the bold, brilliant music she’d just played were actually 16- and 17-year-old high school kids—members of the renowned Kashmere High School Stage Band—recorded in Houston in the early 1970s by their legendary band director, Conrad ‘Prof’ Johnson.”


The story begins in Houston, Texas, in the late 1960s, where Prof put his own musical career aside to take a job as music director at the predominantly black Kashmere High School. The Kashmere High School Stage Band and their brilliant leader would soon become legendary and world-renowned, magnificently capturing the funk spirit of the era.


Prof empowered his students to embrace their own unique style including choreo- graphing slick moves with their instru- ments, which was unprecedented at the time. They would go on to win a record number of titles around the nation, including Most Outstanding Stage Band in the Nation at the highly prestigious All-American High School Stage Band Festival in Mobile, Alabama, in 1972.


Flash forward to February, 2008, where 30 former Stage Band members, now all in their 50s, reunited for the first time in 35 years to play a tribute concert for their former teacher, mentor, and beloved bandleader, Prof, who was 92 years old. Some of these men and women hadn’t picked up their instruments since then, which puts an already remarkable story over the top. Beautifully shot, what became a moving farewell to Prof has tugged on the heartstrings of audiences around the U.S. on


the Film Fest circuit, winning multiple awards. Jamie Foxx ,who signed on as a “presenter” of the film as soon as he saw it, is helping to promote the theatrical release of the film while asking the public to support Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentoring programs, a central theme of Prof’s legacy.


In a time where arts funding continues to be cut nationwide, let’s hope that this film can help reinstate the wisdom that arts and mentorship programs in schools are absolutely essential. Thunder Soul is endorsed by national arts education champions Americans for the Arts Action Fund, as well as school districts around the nation. Texas Music Educators Association Executive Director, Robert Floyd, describes Thunder Soul as “a wonderful tool that will help us further convince students, educators, and policy makers of music’s life-changing impact.”


www.ThunderSoulMovie.com OriginMagazine.com | 23


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