Summer of Soul Notes & Key Takeaways

1969 changed everything for the black community including new styles of music and the beginning of a revolution. At this time the Vietnam war was taking place and black people were divided by violent and non-violent approaches. Summer of Soul is a movie about the soul music festival that took place in Harlem in 1969.

The Harlem Music Festival



The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was an event so filled with stars from soul, R&B, blues and jazz they called it the Black Woodstock. This concert drew more than 300,000 to Marcus Garvey Park.By 1969, the country had already endured the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; the film suggests one reason city officials backed the festival was in hope the celebration would prevent rioting on the anniversary of King’s murder.




  • Stevie Wonder who sang “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Bee-Doo-Da-Day”, “
  • Mongo Santamaria who sang “Watermelon Man”
  • Evelyn Hawkins who sang “Oh Happy Day”, “Help Me Jesus”, and “Wrapped, Tied, and Tangled”
  • Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln who sang “It’s Time” and “Africa”
  • Sly and the Family Stone who sang “Sing a Simple Song”, and “Everyday People”
  • Gladys Knight and the Pips who sang “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
  • The Chambers Brothers
  • B.B. King 
  • David Ruffin who sang “My Girl”
  • The 5th Dimension who sang “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In”
  • Ray Barretto
  • Charlie Watkins 
  • Nina Simone
  • The Staples Singers

The Impact

The camera captures people who attended the festival more than 50 years ago, crying as they remember the power of seeing so many Black people in one place, celebrating Black culture. This was six different shows that took place over six weeks. The festival kept black people from burning down the city and rioting in 1969. This festival was a huge part of black history. Tony Lawrence made the impossible into something possible. The festival included many big named artists who enjoyed performing for the people of Harlem. The Black Panther Party acted as security. This together shows how powerful black people are when we come together.

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