*Before Coachella, Stagecoach or Life Is Beautiful there was the Harlem Cultural Festival! Yesterday, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, opened the Sundance Film Festival with his directorial debut of “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).“
“Summer of Soul” isn’t just a concert film,” expressed the musician during the film’s premiere. “It’s the story of Harlem in 1969. It’s a pivotal year for Black and Brown people all over the country. A lot is happening on stage and a lot is happening off stage. This story has never been told before.”
The documentary is about the Harlem Cultural Festival at Mount Morris Park in the summer of ’69, set over six weekends.
“It was a free concert series that took place in the middle of Harlem and had the biggest acts of the day like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone and Mahalia Jackson,” explained the Philadelphia native.
Mahalia and Mavis Staples together, B.B. King, Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo, of The 5th Dimension, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, Hugh Masekela, Mongo Santamaria, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Babatunde Olatunji, David Ruffin of the Temptations, The Staple Singers, Professor Herman and Voices of Faith. Plus, comedians Moms Mabley, Willie Tyler and Lester.
– “A Black man wants to go to Africa, a white man going to the moon. I’m gonna stay in Harlem with the Puerto Ricans and have me some fun” – Redd Foxx
– A young Stevie Wonder singing, drumming and campaigning
– The Black Panther Party providing security …
– Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s recount of being the first Black woman admitted to the University of Georgia and the harassment she endured and prevailed – by playing the record “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”
– A young and 79-year-old Revered Jesse Jackson sharing his thoughts, conversation and the last words of Martin Luther King Jr. seconds before he was murdered
Although the fete was recorded for distribution no one would buy the show.
“I’ve always considered myself a storyteller – in my career through music, podcasts and what not – this is my next step in storytelling,” shared Thompson. “All that is happening in Harlem has sort of been lost in history. Yet, happening 50 years later. I felt like these stories needed to be told.”
More About The Film: “Summer Of Soul” is a stunning unearthed treasure destined to become a pillar of American music and African American history. The legendary musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents this transporting documentary – part concert film, part historical record – about an epic event that radiated the wholesale reevaluation of Black history, culture, fashion, and music. This rich tapestry deftly incorporates an unforgettable musical revue that includes many rare gems, such as a Stevie Wonder drum solo and a duet between Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples. “Summer Of Soul” shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music.
It was 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen. Until now.
“Summer Of Soul” is produced by David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent and Joseph Patel.