Thunder Soul

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Thunder Soul Movie Poster Image
Uplifting docu spotlights legendary high school jazz band.
  • PG
  • 2011
  • 83 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong positive messages, especially that students, even those from poor neighborhoods, will excel if they're believed in and encouraged. Hard work, perseverance, and dedication are key to meeting high expectations. A teacher can motivate you for life. Art and music are powerful forces in the lives of young people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Prof is an extraordinary role model. He doesn't accept mediocrity from his students because he believes in their greatness, and they're able to meet his standards of excellence with hard work and practice. His students are good role models for the difference that a fantastic educator can make in your life.


Brief references to a student's self-proclaimed thug-like attitude and the violence he escaped by joining the Kashmere Stage Band.


References to band members' attractive appearance of in high school.


Occasional "hell" and "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief shot of an adult smoking in footage from the '70s.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary is full of inspiring messages and strong role models. Although most Americans won't know the history of the legendary funk band featured in the movie, the documentary is fine for tweens and up. There are a couple of references to a band member's "thug"-like personality and the violence he left behind to stay in the band, as well as some brief mentions of how attractive the band was in the '70s. Some sensitive kids may feel saddened by the band teacher's decline in health and a couple of hospital scenes. Language is limited to "hell" and "damn." Overall, this is an inspiring look at a jazz band that revolutionized high school band competition.

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What's the story?

In the mid-1970s, one of the country's top jazz bands was an all-black high school band from Houston: the Kashmere Stage Band. The band, led by Conrad O. Johnson Sr., aka "Prof," not only revitalized the predominantly African-American school, but it also revolutionized the entire concept of the stage band, which was at the time dominated by big-band arrangements played by white teens. With Prof's impossibly high expectations and his belief in his kids -- many of whom had never touched an instrument -- the Kashmere Stage Band brought in the funk and went on to win national competitions and even travel the world. More than 30 years later, one dedicated alumnus reunites the band to perform one last time for their aging, beloved Prof.

Is it any good?

This documentary, executive produced by Texas-born Jamie Foxx, is bittersweet and will make audiences wonder why they've never heard this amazing story. Why isn't there a Mr. Holland's Opus-like adaptation of what Prof did for these teens? Prof himself is an unsung musical genius who was only brought out of obscurity because a young funk-music historian convinced him to release a two-disc set of the KSB's best recordings. Director Mark Landsman captures Prof's charisma, even at age 92, and intersperses footage of the KSB band in the '70s with interviews with the now middle-aged players, the enthusiastic funk musicologist, and even a DJ who asked to sample one of the KSB's most famous pieces.

At a time when so many arts programs are on the verge of extinction, THUNDER SOUL expresses the importance of music in school. Prof's former students are so faithful to him that they fly back to Houston from all around the world to participate in a reunion concert just for him, even though he's almost too frail to attend. Tears will be shed as this group of late-40-something friends pick up their instruments again as a testimony to what an inspirational teacher can provide -- the belief that every student is worthy and capable of greatness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Prof makes a difference in his students' lives. What are some other movies about exceptional teachers who go the extra mile for their kids?

  • What is the movie's message about music and the arts? What do you think of Prof's statement that a principal who wants to cut the arts should be fired?

Movie details

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