Summer of Soul

            The documentary “Summer of Soul” highlighted the importance of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. The Harlem Cultural Festival was the same summer as the Woodstock festival, which gained more popularity on media platforms like television, the news, and newspapers. However, there were over 300,000 people at the Harlem Cultural Festival and had many performances by famous Black musicians. The festival was filmed, but the footage was not shown until 50 years later.

            In 1968, Black people had dealt with the riots, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. People were enraged and were channeling their anger through riots and protests. 1969 was also the era where the derogatory term Negro died, and Black was born. The festival was a way to gather the Black community. Harlem was a great place for Black people and Black culture. The Festival somewhat kept people from burning down Harlem and the rest of New York. It ran for six weekends. The festival was lively and displayed unity among the audience. The concert was hosted by Tony Lawrence, who also produced and directed the festival. A wide range of genres performed: gospel, R&B, blues, jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz fusion, Latin, and funk. There were also comedians and special appearances by Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Mayor John Lindsay.

            During the festival on July 20th, 1969, American had the first man land on the moon. To the people of Harlem, the festival was more important.  Many Black people did not care about a man landing on the moon as other issues were more important. They believed the money could have been used to help the poor and underdeveloped communities.

             1969 changed the era of the Black community. There was a new sense of style and culture. People were unapologetically Black. Societal norms began to change as people changed the way they dressed and styled their hair. The new trend was Dashikis, bell-bottoms, and Afros. There was a new appreciation for blackness, African culture, Caribbean, and Hispanic culture. All cultures were celebrated together. One significant way the cultures were bought together was by the use of the drum. The drum was a common instrument that they shared. Ray Barreto, Mongo Santamaria, were some of the musicians that brought these cultures together.

            Artists like The Fifth Dimension combined the song Aquarius from the show Hair and let the sunshine, an R&B song. They defied racial stereotypes by exploring genres and became music sensations. The festival featured a music day, including The Edwin Hawkins Singers, who performed Oh Happy Day. There was also Papa Staple and the Staple Singers, who incorporated gospel and blues. Other influential artists like Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples performed Precious lord take my hand. Black people were able to rejoice. On that day, Martin Luther King Jr was celebrated. Gospel was popularized as it was being combined with other genres. Gospel artists were invited to folk, gospel, blues, and jazz festivals.

            Motown was still popular. Gladys Knight and the pips and David Ruffin performed. Their performances were energetic and with choreographed dances.  The Harlem Cultural Festival was a political statement. Musicians like Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone used their platform to speak on social justice issues. The festival was also a chance for musicians to reach out to the audience and empower them. The group Sly and the Family Stone was a turning point for Black musicians. Each group member had displayed their style. It was rare for there to a White drummer and to have woman in the band who also played the trumpet.

            It was motivating to see Black women have a remarkable role in music. One of the most memorable parts of the film was when Nina Simone performed. When she sang To Be Young Gifted and Black, the audience was in awe. Summer of Soul was electrifying as it exemplified the liveliness of Black culture and music. The documentary was inspiring because even though the people in Harlem were going through issues like racial injustice, drugs, and poverty, they still made room for happiness and stayed true to who they were. Society often argues that Black people do not have a culture. The Harlem Cultural Festival proves that wrong.


Stevie Wonder 

The Chambers Brothers 

BB King

Herbie Mann 

Roy Ayers 

The Fifth Dimension

The Edwin Hawkins Singers

Papa Staple and the Staple Singers 

Clara Walker & the Gospel Redeemers 

Mahalia Jackson 

Mavis Staples

David Ruffin 

Gladys Knight and the Pips

Sly and the Family Stone 


Mongo Santamaria

Ray Barreto 

Moms Mabley 

Willie Tyler 

Sonny Sharock 

Max Roach 

Abby Lincoln 

Hugh Masekela 

Nina Simone