It was the late 1960’s, and the United States was changing. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Man landed on the moon. Riots rocked the nation. Woodstock took place on a dairy farm. And the Harlem Culture Festival happened in Harlem in 1969.
Never heard of the Harlem Culture Festival? Neither had I.
A new film by Disney’s Searchlight Pictures called “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” covers the Harlem Festival that was both a major event and a forgotten event. The director put the film together from 40 hours of footage that were filmed during the festival. However, the film eventually landed in a basement, undeveloped, and unwatched. Nobody was interested in the story.
Now, the story is out.
Stars Are Born
Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (leader of The Tonight Show’s house band, The Roots), this documentary takes an in-depth look at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
Held for six Sundays in June, July, and August at Mount Morris Park in Harlem (now called Marcus Garvey Park), the festival featured young performers who are still household names and major forces in the music scene today:
Glady Knight & the Pips (“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”)
Stevie Wonder (“My Cherie Amour”)
Mahalia Jackson (“Lord Search My Heart”)
The 5th Dimension (“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”)
Sly & The Family Stone (“I Am Everyday People”)
David Ruffin (“My Girl”)
The 5th Dimension (“Aquarius”)
The music draws you in with high energy and various styles, from gospel to pop to psychedelic. It informs the story of the artists, the people in attendance, and the changes happening in the country. Along the way, we get a window into a fascinating period in US history as well as changes in music and culture.
As I watched the film, courtesy of the nice folks at Disney Media Relations, I couldn’t help but smile at Stevie Wonder, be inspired by The Edwin Hawkins Singers (“Oh Happy Day”), and ponder all the changes that were – and in many cases still are – happening in our country.