‘Soul of a Nation’ to Feature Performances from Common, John Legend, and Cynthia Erivo

Following long form news specials dedicated to race in America like “Turning Point” and “America’s Future: The Power of the Latino Vote,” ABC is presenting “Soul of a Nation,” which it hails as “the first broadcast network newsmagazine that aims to put Black life in America front and center.” Each of the six episodes will explore a different theme: The racial reckoning that erupted following the death of George Floyd; sports activism; faith; Black joy, and the power behind the next generation of Black Americans. Each episode will be hosted by a different guest anchor, including Jemele Hill and Marsai Martin.

The episodes will include short and feature documentary pieces on topics such as the Tulsa Massacre and the abortion debate in the Black community, as well as more conversational “kitchen table” discussions surrounding current events and hot button issues. Each episode will conclude with a musical performance, including ones from John Legend, Common, Cynthia Erivo, and more to be announced.

Here’s the official synopsis from the network: “‘Soul of a Nation’ will present viewers with a unique window into authentic realities of Black life and dive deeper into this critical moment of racial reckoning. It will travel across the country, unpacking issues critical to Black Americans through intimate storytelling and bridge the past, present and future through a variety of voices and experiences from athletes, entertainers, performers and screenwriters. Each episode will explore a specific theme including spirituality, Black joy, activism in sports and the racial reckoning that erupted after George Floyd’s death, and familiar faces — performers, activists, scholars and clergy — will gather for an entertaining and provocative conversation ‘in the kitchen’ about current events.”

Executive producers Eric Johnson and Robe Imbriano gave more insight during ABC’s leg of the winter Television Critics Association Winter 2021 Press Tour on Friday. Citing programs like “Turning Point,” Johnson praised ABC for digging into stories on race. “We’ve been on our way here — and I feel like this is a sign that we’ve arrived — this type of storytelling that we’re getting into,” Johnson said of “Soul of a Nation.”

“Soul of a Nation” was created by Marie Nelson, Senior Vice President of Integrated Content Strategy at ABC News. Noting her childhood growing up watching Andy Rooney “have the last word every week,” Nelson said she is excited for the next generation to see themselves in the storytelling. She also noted that while Black audiences have been tuning in to watch the specials produced by Nelson under her race and culture team, the majority of the audiences are still white. 

“We have seen a surge in response with Black audiences, all of those stories had Black audiences of 40-something percent, but what I always remind folks is that the majority of people who still tuned in to watch …were still white audiences,” Nelson said.

“Soul of a Nation” comes to Tuesday nights starting this March on ABC. Episodes can also be viewed the next day on demand and on Hulu.

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