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Questlove’s Summer of Soul: A Black Empowerment Experience

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Source: Stereogum

Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is a goldmine of a musical find for the Summer of 1969. This movie showcases the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that was held at Mount Morris Park (currently known as Marcus Garvey Park) in New York. This festival was held 100 miles away from Woodstock. This was the Black Woodstock. This footage was never seen for 50 years until this film’s release. The original producer of the festival, Hal Tulchin, tried to sell it but the strength of Woodstock overshadowed this festival! Producer Robert Fryolent found out about this recording and acquired the rights and Questlove became involved and made sure this treasure trove of rare performances got out to the masses.

Source: IGN Youtube Channel

This festival was the epitome of blackness. In 1969, Black and Brown people had gone through so much. The assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Black and Brown people wanted more equality in this country (sounds familiar). They wanted the same rights as everyone else. This Summer of Soul festival was a way to temper the flames of frustration by the community. I was in awe to see a young Stevie Wonder play the drums. It was also powerful to see performances from legends like Nina Simone, the 5th Dimension, Sly and The Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Staple Singers, Edward Hawkins Gospel Choir and BB King. One of the most emotional performances was when the great Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples sang “Precious Lord” while Jesse Jackson recalled his last moments with Dr. Martin Luther King and he stated to Jesse that after dinner he wanted to hear that song then the next second, he was shot.

The interviews of some of the people who were there at the time, were kids or teens and they recalled that this festival gave them hope and pride to see so many amazing artists performing and all the people looking so good for the festival. The interviews with the performers also put in perspective how important festivals like this are not only good for the culture, but uplifts people who feel that their being held down or held back. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson did a great job with his first directorial debut and managed to take 40 hours of footage and pair it down to 117 minutes. You will be entranced by the performances of legends that most of us have only heard of and enthralled by the interviews of the performers and clips of the people in the community. This is a must see not only for music lovers but for history lovers as well.

Will you be streaming Summer of Soul? Are you interested in the history of music? Let’s discuss!

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