Summer of Soul

I watched Summer of Soul last weekend – and I know I don’t write about movies, but this is a documentary about a music festival that took place in Harlem, New York way back in 1969.

It is quite simply one of the best music documentaries I have ever seen.

The Harlem Cultural Festival was held over six Sundays in the summer of 1969 and featured performances from Black musicians including Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and The Pips, B.B. King, Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson and Sly and the Family Stone.

Here’s Questlove talking about it on American TV.

And another trailer showcasing the movie:

While the rest of America was celebrating the Apollo 11 moon landing in the summer of 1969, Harlem was awash in the sounds of soul, blues, jazz, gospel, and pop. There at Mount Morris (now Marcus Garvey) Park, it was a different leap for mankind. The Harlem Cultural Festival, a concert series held over six Sundays, featured a seemingly infinite Rushmore of Black music icons: a then 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, B.B. King, David Ruffin, and the Staple Singers, to name just a few. Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke. Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson practically ripped the clouds out of the sky with their gospel duet. It all started in the weeks before Woodstock.


This Pitchfork article articulates it all so much better than I can so please take a look.

I cannot praise this movie enough, and although the festival happened in 1969 the politics behind it are now more relevant than ever: Black people are still experiencing racism, police brutality and oppression, and more money is spent on sending people into space than is spent on trying to fix our problems here on Earth.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful clip which sums up the flavour of Summer of Soul.

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