Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a documentary film directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson about the legendary Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. It had its premiere on 28 January 2021 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
More than forty thousand people attended the festival in 1969 in Marcus Garvey Park in New York, with security provided by members of the Black Panthers. There was an amazing line-up of black artists, such as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, BB King, and Nina Simone, who sang:
You give me second-class houses
And second-class schools.
Do you think that all coloured folks
Are just second-class fools?
Mr Backlash, I’m gonna leave you with the backlash blues.
The civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson addressed the audience about the death of his friend Martin Luther King Jr, one year after his assassination, which led to the worst rioting in Harlem’s history. Mavis Staple of the Staple Singers and Mahalia Jackson sang Martin Luther King’s favourite hymn, “Take My Hand, Lord,” a performance that makes the hairs on your neck stand up.
The film of the festival was placed in a basement, where it sat unpublished for more than fifty years, because the film studios were not interested in distributing a recording that promoted African-American culture and music. They were only too happy to distribute the film of the 1969 Woodstock rock festival, which offered no threat to the status quo and which was screened in cinemas all over America and beyond.
Most of the rock bands that performed at Woodstock sound tired and dated now compared with the soul music from the Harlem Cultural Festival, which sounds vibrant and relevant today.