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Wattstax (1973)

Wattstax was a benefit concert put together by Stax Records to commemorate the community of Watts, Los Angeles after its 1965 Riots.

The concert took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on 20 August 1972 and featured all of Stax’s prominent artists at the time, including the Staple SingersKim Weston, The Bar-Kays, Albert KingRufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes – originally performing his Theme from Shaft in front of the adoring crowd until MGM’s lawyers got involved (this was a Columbia release) and he had to replace that with a different recording sometime later.

Rufus Thomas, quaint and obnoxious as he is, steals the show from all of them with his pink hot pants and white knee-length boots and Funky Chicken. Richard Pryor (in top comic form) is the host and the Reverend Jesse Jackson appears.

For some reason Wattstax became known as “The Black Woodstock”, as if Woodstock was an exclusively white affair – a certain Mr Hendrix would like a word with you about that when you meet him in the afterlife.

The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper’s film crew under director Mel Stuart and released as the 1973 film titled, Wattstax. One-third of the film is a Richard Pryor monologue, one-third interviews with a handful of Watts citizens – who spoke plainly about their views on life, ranging from the riots to the blues to black men going out with white women – and one-third the actual concert.

The film was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.

Stax released a double LP of the concert’s highlights titled Wattstax: The Living Word. MGM sued over the use of songs from Shaft, so Hayes did some other songs that were edited in.