Wattstax was a benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 riots in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles.[2] The concert took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972. The concert's performers included all of Stax's prominent artists at the time. The genres of the songs performed included soul, gospel, R&B, blues, funk, and jazz. Months after the festival, Stax released a double LP of the concert's highlights titled Wattstax: The Living Word. The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper's film crew and was made into the 1973 film titled, Wattstax. The film was directed by Mel Stuart and nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.

Theatrical poster
Directed byMel Stuart
Produced byLarry Shaw
Mel Stuart
StarringThe Staple Singers
Richard Pryor
Carla Thomas
Rufus Thomas
Luther Ingram
Kim Weston
Johnnie Taylor
The Bar-Kays
Isaac Hayes
Albert King
Ted Lange
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 4, 1973 (1973-02-04)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,560,000 (rentals)[1]



Stax Record's West Coast Director, Forrest Hamilton, came up with the whole concert idea. Being in L.A. during the Watts Riots, Hamilton later became aware of the yearly Watts Summer Festival that commemorated the broken community of Watts, California. Hamilton contacted Stax Records and told them about having a benefit-concert for the 7th Watts Summer Festival. At first, Stax was not so sure on putting together a small concert, with big stars, for a small community such as Watts. Tommy Jacquette, the founder of the Watts Summer Festival, was contacted about the festival idea. With Jacquette being supportive, the concert idea was slowly developing into something big. Al Bell, who was very involved planning the concert, decided that if the festival was going to be as big as he imagines, the festival cannot just be held at a small park in Watts. It had to be held in somewhere big—like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A team of several Stax directors, including Jacquette, contacted the L.A. Coliseum to schedule a meeting. When the meeting took place, the managers at the Coliseum were not so convinced that "a small record company from Memphis can fill up the whole stadium". This was an expensive risk the Stax team was taking.


Stax picked a date, which was Isaac Hayes's birthday and also a few days after the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots. Stax could now print advertisements saying in bold letters: "JOIN US AT THE BIGGEST RECORDING SESSION EVER... IN THE MAKING OF THE GREATEST SOUL ALBUM EVER! WATTSTAX '72 BENEFIT CONCERT." The name of the concert was formed to include "Watts", as in the neighbourhood, and "Stax", the name of the record company putting the show together. As more and more word got out about this big benefit concert, more tickets were being sold. All seats were reserved and only priced at $1.00. Stax wanted to make it possible for anyone to attend, so they made ticket prices cheap. As more and more money was coming in, Al Bell was becoming less and less regretful about putting on the production. The L.A. Coliseum managers could not wait to see what would happen on August 20 at 3:00 p.m. at their stadium.


The stage was built the day before the concert in the middle of the night. This conflict happened because a football game was scheduled on the night of August 19. Stax, being polite, did not make the Coliseum-managers cancel the game. Immediately after the football game, trucks full of long wood-planks drove onto the field. The stage was built right in the center of the field and was built high enough where artists could walk/sit under (a little less than 20 feet tall…). A platform was built that lead from the road (where artists would walk from) to the side stairs of the stage. The seats were hand-cleaned and trash was picked up all around the Coliseum... making the stadium look perfect for the next-day's concertgoers. Also, due to the Coliseum's policy, there could be no seating on the field so the grass wouldn't get ruined for football games. Because of this, Stax wondered: "Could each and every seat be occupied?" Since all of this construction was being done late at night, the rest of it was finished the next day. The concert didn't start until 3:00 in the afternoon, so there was all morning to set-up. A big thing to take care of was cleaning the additional bleachers that seated at least 1,000. The bleachers were set-up so that there would be more seating that included a better view of the stage. Next thing to take care of was building a fence around the stage for the artists' safety reasons. Along with that, a large group of L.A.'s African-American policemen were requested to be scattered all around (inside and outside) the Coliseum. Next to do: was taking care of the transportation situation. The dressing rooms for Stax's artists were outside/behind the stadium... kind of far from the stage. Two vans were rented to drive the artists up to the stage and then back to the dressing rooms. Another pricy necessity was the bathroom situation. Portable restrooms were rented (for the artists to use before and after their sets) and placed right under the side of the stage. Lighting was needed since a few of the acts took place at night. Colored lights were hammered onto poles on each corner of the stage. Next to take care of was the speakers. Stax wanted to make sure the whole stadium could hear the music (especially for the people who were sitting far away from the stage.) In each corner of the fenced part of the field were stacked speakers. Right below the stage was a long table which had several open-reel tape recorders. Stax wanted to put the highlights from the concert on records and sell copies. The biggest deal to take care of was filming the whole concert. A film crew was scattered from the top-row of the stadium to the corners of the stage where the artists were zoomed-in-on. The film crew was told to capture the artists singing, but also get shots of the crowd dancing. And lastly, throughout the whole show, the most commotion was communicating over walkie-talkies. As told, the production of the Wattstax Concert was very stressful.


At around 1:45 p.m., the Coliseum grounds started to be swarmed with L.A.'s Black population. Guards stamped tickets and told concertgoers where their seats were located. The stadium's seats filled up hastily, while the production-team was making sure everything was good to go. The concert's orchestra (dubbed The Wattstax'72 Orchestra) and its composer, Dale Warren, sat until 2:38 p.m. ready to play their warm-up instrumental titled "Salvation Symphony". At 2:38 p.m., the first song was performed to a crowd of 112,000 (mostly African-American).

Performing artists

  • 2:38: "Salvation Symphony" by Dale Warren
  • 2:57: "Star Spangled Banner" by Kim Weston
  • 3:01: "Speech" by Tommy Jacquette
  • 3:05: "Speeches" by Anonymous Speakers
  • 3:13: "Introduction/I Am Somebody" by Jesse Jackson
  • 3:19: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Kim Weston
  • 3:23: "Speech and Staple Singers Intro" by Melvin Van Peebles AND "Heavy Makes You Happy" by Staple Singers
  • 3:27: "Are You Sure" by Staple Singers
  • 3:31: "I Like The Things About Me" by Staple Singers
  • 3:37: "Respect Yourself" by Staple Singers
  • 3:42: "I’ll Take You There" by Staple Singers
  • 3:47: "Somebody Bigger than You and I" by Jimmy Jones
  • 3:52: "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Deborah Manning
  • 3:57: "Better Get A Move On" by Louise McCord
  • 4:01: "Unknown" by Eric Mercury
  • 4:04: "Unknown" by Freddy Robinson
  • 4:09: "Them Hot Pants" by Lee Sain
  • 4:13: "Unknown" by Ernie Hines
  • 4:17: "Wade In The Water" by Little Sonny
  • 4:21: "Pin The Tail On The Donkey" by The Newcomers
  • 4:24: "Explain It To Her Mama" by The Temprees
  • 4:27: "I’ve Been Lonely" by Frederick Knight
  • 4:31: "I Forgot To Be Your Lover" by William Bell
  • 4:34: "Knock On Wood" by Eddie Floyd
  • 4:38: "Old Time Religion" by The Golden Thirteen
  • 4:42: "Lying on the Truth" by Rance Allen
  • 4:46: "Up Above My Head" by Rance Allen
  • 4:50: "Introduction" by David Porter
  • 4:54: "Ain't That Loving You" by David Porter
  • 4:58: "Can't See You When I Want to" by David Porter
  • 5:09: "Reach Out and Touch" by David Porter
  • 5:12: "Son of Shaft" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:18: "Feel It" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:23: "In the Hole" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:26: "I Can’t Turn You Loose" by The Bar-Kays
  • 5:31: "Unknown Performances" by Tommy Tate
  • 5:41: "I Like What You’re Doing" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:46: "Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:49: "B-A-B-Y" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:52: "Pick Up the Pieces" by Carla Thomas
  • 5:55: "I Have a God Who Loves" by Carla Thomas
  • 6:00: "Matchbox Blues" by Albert King
  • 6:05: "Got to Be Some Changes Made" by Albert King
  • 6:11: "I'll Play the Blues for You" by Albert King
  • 6:17: "Killing Floor" by Albert King
  • 6:21: "Angel of Mercy" by Albert King
  • 6:26: "Breakdown" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:32: "Do the Funky Chicken" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:39: "Do the Funky Penguin" by Rufus Thomas
  • 6:45: "I Don't Know What This World Is Coming to" by The Soul Children
  • 6:52: "Hearsay" by The Soul Children
  • 7:00: "Speech" by Fred Williamson and Jesse Jackson
  • 7:03: "If Loving you is Wrong" by Luther Ingram
  • 7:06: "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes
  • 7:12: "Soulsville" by Isaac Hayes
  • 7:17: "Never Can Say Goodbye" by Isaac Hayes


In January 2004, a restored version of the film played at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by a theatrical reissue in June by Sony Pictures Repertory. In September 2004, the PBS series P.O.V. aired a new documentary about the concert and the movie. That same month, the movie was released on DVD by Warner Bros., which obtained the video rights when it purchased the Wolper library (Warner's former sister company, Warner Music Group, coincidentally owns the rights to most pre-1968 Stax recordings).


Songs in the film

In order of appearance:

Other songs in the concert

Production credits

  • Directed by: Mel Stuart
  • Produced by: Larry Shaw, Mel Stuart
  • Executive Producers: Al Bell, David L. Wolper
  • Associate Producer: Forest Hamilton, Hnic.
  • Consultants: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tommy Jacquette, Mafundi Institute, Rev. Jesse Boyd, Teddy Stewart, Richard Thomas, John W. Smith, Sylvester Williams, Carol Hall
  • Cinematography: Roderick Young, Robert Marks, Jose Mignone, Larry Clark
  • Edited by: Robert K. Lambert, David Newhouse, David Blewitt
  • Assistant Director: Charles Washburn
  • Concert Unit Director; Sid McCoy
  • Production Coordinator: David Oyster
  • Music Supervisor: Terry Manning
  • Music Recording: Wally Heider, Inc.
  • Post Production Supervisor: Philly Wylly
  • Concert Artist Staging: Melvin Van Peebles
  • Music Conductor: Dale Warren
  • Lighting: Acey Dcey
  • Production Staff: Jim Stewart, Johnny Baylor, Gary Holmes/Mind Benders, Humanities International, Edward Windsor Wright

See also


  1. "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety, January 9, 1974. pg 60.
  2. James Maycock, "Loud and Proud" The Guardian, 19 July 2002
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