The summer of soul is a documentary film covering the Harlem Cultural Festival. A celebration of African American music and culture, the festival appealed to many in the community thanks to the work of Tony Lawrence amongst many others.
The Harlem Cultural festival boasted an impressive line up, and featured icons of the culture across many different genres.The music ranged from gospel to soul, jazz, blues, to the funk of Sly and the Family Stone.
The 5th Dimension
The 5th Dimension’s sound inlsudes pop, R&B, soul, and light opera and Broadway. Although the group had many hits, the piece highlighted in the film was “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in” from the musical Hair. The significance of their performance lies in the fact that their music wasn’t widely accepted by a Black audience that didn’t deem them to be “Black” enough. Their participation in the festival made way for different forms of Blackness in music.
Stevie Wonder’s music is heavily influenced by genres like R&B, soul, gospel, funk, and jazz. Stevie’s use of electronic instruments in the 70s helped to expand the R&B genre. Stevie’s performance of “It’s your Thing” at the festival is significant because it rings as a sort of victory song for Wonder’s battle over creativity with Barry Gordy. This battle set the stage for Wonder’s “Classic Period”, an era of creation that still significantly inspires most music today across genres.
Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer cosnidered by many to be the most influential vocalist of the 20th century. Mahalia’s music was essential to the formation and popularity of blues influenced gospel throughout Black America, meant to heal many of the wounds caused by civil rights issues of the time. Jackson’s appearance at the festival represented the spiritual aspect of Black liberation.
Cultural impacts and contextual Analysis
Jesse Jackson, Nina Simone, and attitudes surrounding Black Liberation
In addition to the performances, the festival provided a stage for issues. Jesse Jackson spoke, and Nina Simone read a black nationalist poem by David Nelson, which contrasted with the tones of Jesse Jackson’s speech. The two differing sentiments represent contrasting views from the community about freedom. This exchange being held on national television made way to discuss Black issues on a larger scale, and offer a multitude of viewpoints.
Is it the "Black Woodstock?"
Although many people refer to the festival as the “Black Woodstock”, I’m not sure the comparison will do. Albeit both events had a political undertone and stellar acts, the comparisons stop there. Woodstock doesn’t compare the Harlem Cultural Festival in that it was just a music festival. The HCF was about more then music, it was about presenting and exploring new ideas around Blackness and liberation. It doubled as a celebration of Black achievement and source of healing for Black people, which I’m not sure Woodstock’s reach compares to. This is proven in current celebrations of Black art, from television networks to other cultural gatherings around the world. The work of the Harlem Cultural Festival has impacted the way we view Black art forever.