For 14 years, Los Angeles has enjoyed the annual Taste of Soul Family Food Festival on Crenshaw Blvd. The day-long festival presented by Bakewell Media boasts over 350,000 visitors just last year alone. Taste of Soul has become an institution in the Crenshaw community and draws people from L.A. and beyond, coming to enjoy live music and entertainment on more than five stages, delicious food from hundreds of vendors and shopping – including blocks and blocks of art, jewelry, clothing, beauty products as well as a plethora of free community services. The festival is family-friendly and known for being one of the largest and safest events in Southern California. Originally founded by Bakewell Media CEO Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. in 2005, Taste of Soul has grown exponentially over the years, and Mr. Bakewell says he can’t believe it’s been 14 years since its beginning.
“The evolution of Taste of Soul has simply been about the care for Black people and wanting the best for our community,” says Mr. Bakewell.
As one of the leading & most respected civil rights leaders in California and across the nation, Mr. Bakewell, Sr. wears a lot of hats. Besides being the founder and creator of Taste of Soul he is the executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and L.A. Watts Times Newspapers, he is one of the founders and serves as Chairman of the Board for Mothers in Action, is a founding member, current board chairman and former president and CEO of The Brotherhood Crusade and is the Chairman Emeritus of NNPA (Black Press of America). Taste of Soul was birthed when Mr. Bakewell acquired the Los Angeles Sentinel in 2005 and thought of ways to reenergize the historical newspaper, bring in more revenue, and expand the reach of the newspaper into new media markets.
“I chose the theme ‘The Voice of Our Community Speaking for Itself’ for the newspaper, and that has really been a theme of my life. This is what I have lived for, trying to do things with the community in mind,” says Mr. Bakewell. “For Taste of Soul, I didn’t want to simply go rent a venue. I wanted Taste of Soul to be in the community, for the community and hosted by the community. I wanted to do something right here, on Crenshaw Blvd.”
With the help of his dedicated and longtime executive assistant, and community activist Ms. Brenda Marsh-Mitchell, who also served as the President of Mothers in Action – a Taste of Soul non-profit partner since the first year — Mr. Bakewell got straight to work on the planning of the festival.
“Brenda was at the core of everything at the Sentinel and of Taste of Soul,” says Mr. Bakewell of Ms. Marsh-Mitchell whom the gospel stage at Taste of Soul is named after. “She is a key component to the Taste of Soul legacy and we miss her dearly.” Together, Bakewell & Marsh-Mitchell, The Sentinel & Mothers in Action put into action the task of developing a plan to bring Bakewell’s vision to Crenshaw.
When Mr. Bakewell came up with the idea for Taste of Soul, it was June. He told Ms. Marsh-Mitchell that he wanted to aim for the following year, yet Ms. Marsh-Mitchell persisted that they could indeed get it done that year.
At first, many people didn’t think it was possible to bring a positive, family-friendly festival to the Crenshaw area. Concerns with gang violence and crowd issues kept coming up, but Mr. Bakewell insisted on the festival being in the heart of South Los Angeles on Crenshaw Boulevard.
“If you give our community quality, we accept quality and respond in kind,” says Mr. Bakewell. “These are our children in this community – our nieces & nephews and grandchildren. If you give them something to be proud of, they will be the greatest protectors of what we’re doing.”
Despite the concerns, Mr. Bakewell chartered the support of city officials like L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks of District 9, City Council President Herb Wesson of District 10 and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“I said, look — If it’s successful, you can take all the credit. If it’s unsuccessful, I’ll take all the weight,” says Mr. Bakewell, who knew all along the festival would go smoothly.
What Mr. Bakewell wanted to do was to bring more than just food and crowds out to the boulevard. He wanted it to be all about family. He and Ms. Marsh-Mitchell brainstormed and he decided to call the event “Taste of Soul.”
Taste of Soul’s original radio partner was 100.3 the Beat, when it was owned by Radio One (Cathy Hughes). Following the sale of the Beat, 94.7 the WAVE and 102.3 KJLH became Taste of Soul’s radio partner and CBS2/KCAL9 joined as a TV partner. Mr. Bakewell credits the media partnerships as well as the dire support of major corporate sponsors, city public safety agencies, public health agencies, universities, and more, for making Taste of Soul possible each year.
The first annual Taste of Soul in 2005 hosted an inaugural crowd of about 35,000 and fit between King Blvd. and Coliseum, just in front of the Sentinel office.
“It was an arousing success. We had the radio stations out there. We lit up Crenshaw Blvd. It just had an aura to it,” says Mr. Bakewell. “That was really the beginning of Taste of Soul. It was simply a love for the community and a dedication to making sure we had something of quality that the community could be proud of. That was the catch – make the community proud.”
As its reputation grew, Taste of Soul gained more and more vendors each year, extending the festival down to Rodeo Rd., now named Obama Blvd. Another strong feature of Taste of Soul is the success that comes of the small business owners who start with vendor booths at Taste of Soul and through their success at the festival, are able to open storefronts, upgrade their businesses and return to the festival each year.
Over time, Taste of Soul has gained its place in the city of Los Angeles and continues to evolve into an institution of South L.A. Chairs of the event are L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council President Herb Wesson, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson and L.A. County Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas. Co-Chairs include Rep. Karen Bass, Councilmember Curren Price, Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Assembly member Autumn Burke, KCBS-2’s Pat Harvey, LA Unified School Board Member George McKenna and the Ivie, McNeill, Wyatt, Purcell & Diggs Law Firm.
The Taste of Soul Family Festival is a day where people in the community can enjoy gourmet food and free live music from big names like Brandy, Teddy Riley, Chante Moore and Stevie Wonder. You can showcase talent at the Starquest competition, worship at the Gospel stage and your kids can have a ball in Children’s World. But what’s remarkable about the Taste of Soul is that at the very same event, you can get free healthcare resources, register to vote, meet your city officials and even get hired at a new job, on the spot. You can dance and smile and bask in the beauty of Black joy and Black culture on the famous Crenshaw Boulevard, a gem of South Los Angeles. This festival is dedicated to the well-being of Black people and hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world have come to share it. What started as an idea dear to Mr. Bakewell’s heart, has now become a part of the Los Angeles community that will be written into history for years to come.
The 14th Annual Taste of Soul is Saturday October 19, 2019. For more information, visit tasteofsoul.org and stay up to date on all Taste of Soul news by downloading the Taste of Soul app and by following @TasteofSoulLA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.