Published: October 5, 2011
Directed by Mark Landsman
Opens Oct. 7 at AMC Owings Mills 17
Anyone who has been in school might be lucky enough to remember one or two educators who reached them and made them aware of their potential and their responsibilities. Conrad “Prof” Johnson was one of those teachers, and he did it with music, which is not exactly an educational funding priority these days. Just saying. Lent some star power by executive producer and narrator Jamie Foxx, Thunder Soul is a joyous, touching, and inspiring documentary about the 2008 35th-year reunion of the Kashmere High School Stage Band of Houston, Texas, in honor of “Prof,” their by-then nonagenarian former band director, who took the idea of what a high school stage band (as opposed to a marching band) was supposed to be and, thanks to his students, shot it full of jazzy soul, funk, and show business, which promptly caused the Kashmere band to start winning national championships against more established, stodgier competition. We get a look at what some of young Black America looked like 35 years ago (giant Afro hair, “Superfly” leather jackets, etc.) as African-Americans were celebrating and enthusiastically expressing the concepts of “Black Is Beautiful” and “Black Power,” and we don’t get too deeply into the defunding of worthy school activities like stage band between the mid-’70s and the bleakness of today, instead concentrating on the drama and potential effect of the reunion, showing the impression Prof Johnson made on his returning band members, some of whom would be in jail or dead without stage band, some who had not picked up an instrument since high school. People in their 50s, suddenly shot back in time to do something that for some of them was the best thing they ever did. A lot of high school stage bands released records, but Kashmere’s tiny catalog achieved a legendary, almost mythical status among hard-core crate-digger vinyl collectors, and is probably the only one that got sampled by Dan the Automator, Prince Paul, and DJ Shadow, and eventually inspired producer Eothen “Egon” Alapatt to work with (and of course be inspired by) Prof and assemble the Texas Thunder Soul anthology, and when you hear the band, then and now, that’s the beauty of this experience: Sound that fills your head and energizes you and just makes you feel good, like you could rule the world, you know, in a good way, a sound described in the film, succinctly, by Prof Johnson as: “Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh.” Yeah.
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