All About the Summer of Soul

By: Kaia Bruce

In New York in 1969, the Harlem Culture Festival took place. This was an event for the black culture to come together and enjoy themselves in their community. Many artists performed different genres of music as everyone in the crown danced and sang along. This post will touch base on the impact of the festival, some of the artist who performed, and the different genres of music that were played.

What was The Harlem Culture Festival and What did it Mean for the Community?

The Harlem Culture Festival took place in Mount Morris Park in Harlem. Harlem was a place to feel safe and happy, and it was filled with culture. Over 300,000 people attended the 6-week long event to celebrate black culture. Because of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the festival was a way of bringing the black community back together for times of joy and peace. After the riots and fights for equality, the festival allowed for happiness and a time of peace.


The Harlem Festival of 1969 brought the community together. It allowed people from all over to come together and enjoy themselves while listening to different styles of music. With the death of Martin Luther King Jr. happening the year before, the festival kept black communities from rioting and burning the city down. Instead, they used their energy positively by dancing, laughing, and singing. 


The Harlem Cultural Festival expressed a variety of genres. These include R&B, gospel, funk, jazz, blues, and more. Specifically, B.B. King sung the blues with his song “Why I Sing the Blues”. Furthermore, Mahalia Jackson sang the gospel song “Precious Lord Take my Hand”. In these different genres of music being performed, the audience was able to hear different types of music from different cultures and join together for a peaceful experience. 


In this trailer os the Summer of Soul, you can gain insight on what the festival was like. You hear from Gladys Knight, you see excerpts of other artists, and you hear the affect the festival had on some of the attendees. This gives us an idea of what the festival was really like. It was produced by Questlove and shows how the festival was set up, what the crowd looked like, and what the performers looked like. Likewise, it is mentioned how this concert turned the lives of many black people around and brought them all together to begin believing in theirselves and their culture.

Performers & What They Performed in the Summer of Soul

B.B. King

  • “Why I sing the Blues”

Gladys Knight & The Pips

  • “I Heard it through the Grapevine”.

Stevie Wonder

  • “Uptight”

David Ruffin

  • “My Girl”

The 5th Dimension 

  •  “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”

The Temptations

  • “My Girl”

The Chambers Brothers

  • “Uptown”

Mahalia Jackson

  • “Precious Lord Take my Hand”

Sly & The Family Stone

  • “Higher””Everyday People”

Nina Simone

  •  “Backlash Blues””To Be Young, Gifted, and Black”

Ray Barretto

  • “Together”

The Edwin Hawkins Singers 

  • “Oh Happy Days”

Although the video given is not from the Harlem  Cultural Festival, the song is one of those performed by Nina Simone at the festival. She sings “Backlash Blues” and in this you can assume what the performance was like at the festival. She was one of the most influential performers who gave black people faith, and hope of a better future. She spoke to black people; she spoke in a way that pushed them during hard times and motivated them.

My overall interpretation of the festival relates to today’s time with Rolling Loud, Something in the Water, and Coachella. These events are times where different artists who perform different styles of music come together which brings the community together. In each event, people from all over the world attend to see their favorite artist and have a good time. I personally haven’t experienced any of these events before, but find it interesting and fascination how everyone comes together as a whole, meets new people, and rock to all the best jams. The documentary of the Harlem Festival itself caught my attention due to the background behind it and the effort shown by Tony Lawrence.