Summer of Soul: Film Review

by: Kelaiah Dixon

About Summer of Soul:

Summer of Soul (2021) is a documentary film that shows a compilation of footage including Black performers at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Harlem, New York. What makes this film particularly special, is it has been 50+ years since the footage of this festival was recorded in the summer of ’69, however, it was never publicly put out until 2021.


Stevie Wonder was the opening performer of the film which was very fitting, as he contributed decades of r&b and soul to music. The group The 5th dimension, a Black group from St. louis were shown performing their music which was a pop/alternative style genre with undertones of soul music, and some inclusion of gospel elements. Edwin Hawkins and his singers from Cali performed their highly popular song at the time, ‘Oh happy day’. I found it very interesting that, that song during that time was seen as secular by the church. The Staples singers from Chicago performed with soulful harmonies and melodies. Their music had Mississippi influences of blues, folk, and gospel

The performances also included notable artists such as The Chambers Brothers, BB King, Herbie Mann, Clara Walker & the Gospel Redeemers, Mahalia Jackson, Mavis Staples, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barreto, Moms Mabley, Willie Tyler, Sonny Sharrock, Max Roach, Abby Lincoln, Hugh Masekela, Nina Simone.

Cultural impact/Why this was important during this time

This was a revolutionary time for Black people. All across America Black people were fighting for their lives, civil rights, and basic human rights. We often see photos and videos

Genre analysis – Summer of Soul is a greatly captures this collection of genres, because this film documents many different branches of soul. There was Gospel present that spiritually connected the audienced to their faith through relatability of lyrics, soulful singing, and lyrics of faith and brighter days like oh happy day. There was blues present, very soulful emotions conveyed through melodies of the instrument like the performance BB king. Alternative soul music, rooted in soul carried undertones of soul music while also including elements of pop like the fifth dimension. Jazz soulful singing showing vulnerability, and honesty in emotion through vocals – Nina Simone.

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