The same summer that a largely white, middle- and upper-class group of students descended upon Woodstock, N.Y. for a mammoth concert like no other the Harlem Cultural Festival was taking place in Mount Morris Park in Harlem. That little attention was paid to these equally splendid affairs is sadly understood given that it was a black audience and black artists. Thankfully, the lost footage of that summer has been found, and arranged into a stunningly beautiful documentary directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
While Bob Dylan, the Who and Joe Cocker rocked out upstate in the mud, the likes of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King and Nina Simone entertained throngs of attendees at the park in Harlem. Even the 5th Dimension was there, pairing the “Hair” song “Age of Aquarius” with the second act “Let the Sunshine In,” and creating a psychedelic pop tune for the close of the decade.
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Questlove’s camera interviews some of those who were there, as well as talking heads opining as to why the “Summer of Soul” was so important in an America that was (and continues to be) so divided. Watching Harlem’s smiling faces and rapturous response to the music, we can’t help but be pained that this magnificent footage was ignored for so long.
Questlove has done history and cinema and culture a greatness with his film, which brings something lost to all but memory back into the light. May it never be forgotten.
Now available on Hulu.
GET A SECOND OPINION: Read Anthony Francis’s review