The Soul Generation

Syracuse, NY (circa 1960s)

Many of you reading this page weren’t even born when a rapidly growing group of black teens known as The Soul Generation were making their statements in Syracuse and indeed “around the world.”

I’ve got to thank Ms. Marcia Hagan for her valuable input to this article as she was one of the leading members of The Soul Generation. The Soul Generation was founded by students of Nottingham High School, composed mostly South Side kids that were bused to the East Side of Syracuse primarily for integration purposes. It was the brain child of Raynard Hutchinson. The black students attending Nottingham didn’t fit into any of the established groups at the school, so they decided to create their own. They were not allowed to meet at the school, so the Syracuse Housing Authority offered them some space in Pioneer Homes. The only requirements were that we had to keep the space clean and no fighting.

What exactly was The Soul Generation? I’m glad you asked because they were one-of-a-kind — and the first of a kind — that were often imitated but never duplicated. They were one of the first groups to perform a kind of impressionistic dancing they called “dance drama.” The kind you can see performed today by young people in many churches as well as in public forums, sometimes under different names.

They were also actors, stage performers that acted out dramatic plays, but what I remember and loved best about them is their singing. Their members grew from just a few, which included Marcia Hagan, Raynard Hutchinson, Eleanor Russell, Ron & Louise Chavis, Steve Sams, Rose & Van, Twyla Clemons, Jerome Branch, Andrew and Anthony Russell, Lillian Hollis and Ava Andrews (now with Dave Hanlon’s Cookbook), and many others. Their singing was superb.

As The Soul Generation continued to perform, sing and dance their way into the hearts of the Syracuse community, their membership continued to grow — 50, then 60 — and at one point between 125 to 150 members as kids from every part of town wanted to join.

They first appeared at local Syracuse and surrounding area forums, schools, colleges, centers and the like. They later acquired the late Sherman Cummings Jr. and his sister, Lagreer “sister” Cummings; Herbert Levens; Pat Levens; Susan Shaeffer; Kelvin Branch; Lance Ruckman; Ronald Harden; Frank Jones, and Tony Adams. Oh that put the icing on the cake, especially in the music department. These kids had VOICES and added so much to the group.

Then it happened! The group was noticed by two folks from Syracuse University, Professor Barbara Jackson of the African-American Studies department who later became Director of the African-American Museum in New York City, and Mr. Roger Robinson, (stage and screen actor). These two people wrote for the group and directed a play called, “A Dream Deferred.” The Soul Generation performed that piece at the Regent Theater on the SU campus, then all over the country, which won for them several awards. Ms. Jackson and Mr. Robinson later wrote “Let My People Go,” which was choreographed by Marcia Hagan. The Soul Generation performed “Let My People Go” all over this country and an entourage of 15 cast members traveled to Africa in the summer of 1969 to perform “Let My People Go.”

The group was probably so successful because of the support they received from so much of the community, like the pastor of Park Central; the Rev. Pusey, who allowed the group to rehearse in the church; Mrs. Willie Andrews and Joe and Pat Lotido, and Jean Dougherty of Syracuse Channel 5, as well as Barbara Harrison and many others who provided makeup, transportation, costumes, etc.

Marcia says upon graduation from high school, The Soul Generation stayed together. She then wrote several plays that they performed on college campuses and in various churches throughout the East Coast. Sherman Jr. and Marcia wrote a lot of music that was performed by the group after they had graduated. Then a world renowned pianist, Dr. Robert Prichard, took an interest in the group and booked them into several shows. The Soul Generation was the first black New York group to perform on the main stage at the Great New York State Fair. You should have been there!

– By Herbert Williams, a local musician and singer

A Friendly Five is created and coordinated by Reggie Seigler. This regular column highlights the music and history of Syracuse’s South Side music scene. If you are a local musician and have an idea for A Friendly Five future column, contact Reggie at reggie@softspokenband.com or call (315) 479-9620.