Summer of Soul
by Willard Manus
1969 was a tumultuous year in American history. It was a year of war (Viet Nam), space exploration (Apollo 11), assassination (RFK, MLK, Malcolm X), rising black militancy (the Panthers), and the beginning of the heroin epidemic. In July of that year Harlem also mounted its own version of Woodstock, a major cultural festival that celebrated black music and song. Spread out over six weekends, the free concerts in Mt. Morris Park attracted an ocean of people, thrilling to the artistry of such stars as BB King, Mahalia Jackson, the Staples Singers, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Herbie Mann and The Chambers Brothers (to name but a few).
Backed by New York Citys Mayor Lindsay and several corporate entities, the Harlem Culture Festival was, as one critic said, an extraordinary event. Not just of musical history. Its a mind-blowing moment of American history. The TV producer Hal Tulchin shot the concerts on spec but couldnt attract financing to complete the film, so his work languished in his basement for nearly fifty years until Searchlight Pictures realized its value and hired director Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson and editor Joshua L. Pearson to assemble a workable version.
As a result,
the public can now see SUMMER OF SOUL, both in theatres and on Hulu. The
freshly restored original footage has been given a new dimension. Some
of the artists who took part in the 69 festival were invited to
look back on their own performances-and comment on the significance
of the event. As drummer Max Roach said, The festival marked the
year the Negro died and the Black was born. Black liberation was propelled
on a wave of music.