In between his Oscar-nominated role as Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope, and as the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, James Earl Jones hosted a 1973 television series called Black Omnibus. Combining both interview and performance segments, the series, which only lasted 12 episodes, featured an eclectic range of prominent African-American musicians, comedians and other cultural figures, such as author Alex Haley (above), when he was still writing his epic novel Roots.
Black Omnibus was taped in 1972 before a live studio audience in Hollywood around the time of the famous Wattstax Music Festival. So some of the artists who were scheduled to appear at the festival also dropped in for the television show. Most interestingly, BlackOmnibus.com surmises that this “is possibly the only African-American show in its era that featured 100% live music.”
BlackOmnibus.com (along with its YouTube channel), features video clips of artists at the height of their fame. Host Jones asks guest Richard Pryor who influenced him to become a comedian. “I don’t know—I couldn’t fight,” Pryor responds, which prompts the audience to laugh. “So I do a little dance, make jokes.” (0:28)
Black Omnibus also featured musical performers from different genres of music including folksinger Odetta, roots musician Taj Mahal, R&B vocal act the Spinners, and jazz/ragtime great Eubie Blake. Check out this funky performance by Stax legend Rufus Thomas, in a spectacular hot-pink ensemble. (1:09)
Watch more video clips on Black Omnibus:
10 minute clip reel with highlights of performances Part I:
10 minute clip reel with highlights of performances Part II:
For more performances from this era in TV history, visit our SOUL! site.