Wednesday July 6th 2022

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Summer of Soul

Movie Corner

(…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)


(2021 Searchlight Pictures)



              Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 is the festival all but forgotten, deliberately thrown (literally) down in a basement. Many people in Harlem at the time believed the festival is the main reason racial disturbances that year didn’t occur like the previous year after the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4,1968. All in all, over 300,000 Harlem residents, 99% African American, crowded into Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) – all outdoors – to see and hear a great tribute to African American music: gospel, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, and soul. The few cops at the festival are barely visible. Nearly all the security is provided by the Black Panthers for an energetic, peaceful, and historical music festival.

      Thanks to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the director, who found the two-inch tapes in a basement simply going to waste for 50 years, we have Summer of Soul. What a grand prize to see Black people from little kids to seniors watching the singers and the instrumentalists perform on stage. The Harlem Cultural Festivalhad a strong touch, reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissanceof the 1920s. Unfortunately, this great tribute to Black music is probably the last big memorable event for Black Harlem before gentrification set foot in Harlem with very high rent condominiums.

Searchlight Pictures

         A long list of stellar musicians appear on the stage like Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Hugh Masekela, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mavis Staples and the  Staple Singers, the 5th Dimension, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Mongo Santamarìa, and Abbey Lincoln.

         Then to add to the fun in Mount Morris Park, several attendees tell their stories of being in the crowd soaking up the music. One attendee, a teenager, remarks he couldn’t take his eyes off of Marilyn McCoo of the 5th Dimension. And to think at that time, after the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, one festival brings Black people together, at least for a moment.

Stevie Wonder’s keyboard solo “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” is enough to get anyone swinging to the music. Or, the Edwin Hawkins Singers in lime green attire swaying in unison singing “Oh Happy Day”. To quote Gladys Knight, referring to the festival, “It wasn’t just about the music.” Sly and the Family Stone went on to delight the audience by singing “Everyday People”. One last word: Summer of Soul deserves every bit – if not more so – the overkill attention given to Woodstock, held  around the same time. Honestly, Summer of Soul is Black people’s Woodstock.

    Director: Amir Thompson, a.k.a. Questlove. Running time: 117 minutes.

Also in the Movie Corner

John Singleton’s first film, Boyz N the Hood,was released on July 12, 1991 – 30 years ago.

The late John Singleton’s first film is a masterpiece centering around the results of white supremacy and not just neighborhoods in decay. He was the youngest person (and the first African-American) nominated for best director. Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, and Desi Arnez Hines II are the principal cast members. If you haven’t seen Boyz N the Hood, it is a must see. And if you have seen it, it is worth seeing again.

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