Summer of soul is a documentary that covered festivals held in Harlem, New York, that celebrated African-American music and trends in 1969. Over 300,000 people attended the six-week festival, held in Mount Morris Park. It sought to include many different genres of African-American music such as gospel, funk, soul, R&B, and many more, including but not limited to artists such as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.
The festival brought together the Black community to share and celebrate Blackness during the height of addiction and death of Black men. Many members of the Black community had lost faith in their country due to extreme police brutality, racism, poverty, and family separation due to the war. The festival brought light to the community. It celebrated life, and Black leaders, and unity within the community during and fought oppression during 1969. It was the beginning of the Black Panther Party.
Stevie Wonder, at the age of 19, performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival, yet had been releasing albums since he was 11 years old. He heavily influenced genres such as R&B, funk, and gospel with the incorporation of electronic music. During the Harlem Cultural Festival, he performed “It’s Your Thing” as a victory song and a sigh of relief and new beginnings in the Black community. His contributions to music during the late 60s and 70s still remain significant today, especially with his song “Happy Birthday,” which remains a staple in Black households.
Mahalia Jackson is considered to be one of the most influential gospel vocalists in the Black community. During her performance at the Harlem Cultural Festival, she sang, “Hear my cry, hear my call / Hold my hand lest I fall.” This performance uplifted the crowd and filled a void in the community. Similar to Stevie Wonder, she sought to heal broken families and wounds caused by the opioid epidemic, civil war, and Vietnam war.
Gladys Knight & The Pips