Summer of Soul: A Summer to Remember
By Janelle Clark
Questlove is an American musician with a deep appreciation for the art and history of Black music. He poured love and adoration into his documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. Throughout the film we explore many different themes of what Black people were experiencing politically, mentally, and soulfully. The many famous appearances that take place in this film are cinematic and parallel beautifully to reflect how eternal their impact is. Summer of Soul, directed by Amir Thompson (AKA Questlove) is an analysis of the soon to be thriving culture of Black people and America.
Before I started watching Summer of Soul, I figured that it was just a survey piece. It would be a concert and some interviews with some of the vendors and participants in the festival. Little did I know that so much more than simple explanations of how delicious a hot dog is would await me in this movie. The opening described and painted a beautiful picture of the era, the area of Harlem in which the festival took place, and the prominence of the people who performed and attended. It felt like watching home, like attending a barbecue of aunties and uncles who I’ve met so many times over fried chicken and smoked beans.
Throughout the movie many notable figures like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, The 5th Dimension, Nina Simone, and many others gather in this park to celebrate, in the words of Miss Simone, young, gifted, and black people. The idea of gifted black people was extremely popular for the time and the future era that the United States was entering. With tensions around prominent figures like the Black Panther Party, the civil rights movement and
the seemingly never-ending attack on the rights and freedom of Black People. To quote her iconic words that were masterfully said, “ It wasn’t just about the music, we wanted progress. We are black people and we should be proud of it. We want our people, our people lifting us up.” The energy of the music scene at the time was so black, it was so powerfully African American that it took over the psyche of black people and inspired them.
The 1960s brought music and challenge to the black community, and might I say, a challenge that was giddily excepted and expectations were exceeded. The expectations of the black music community were just for them to play and entertain, that’s all music was to the white upper class, that’s all they thought of black people.