Summer of Soul

Review by Keris Lewis

Summer of Soul is a documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson that depicts the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969. The festival was held across the state of New York with performances happening live in Harlem, Manhatten, and New York City. This festival was a large-scale demonstration of African American culture and had a role in encourage black involvement in politics.

Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time.

Questlove

Background:

Performing Artists: 

  • Nina Simone
  • B. King
  • Sly and the Family Stone
  • Chuck Jackson
  • Gladys Knight & The Pips
  • Stevie Wonder
  • The Staple Singers
  • The 5th Dimension

The Harlem Music Festival itself spanned from 1967 until 1974, however, this documentary focuses on 1969 which was deemed the “Black Woodstock”, named after another popular festival in New York. Despite the popularity of the festival (roughly 300,000 were in attendance), the festival was subject to fraud and its founder received threats to his life leading to the festival and its historical importance being forgotten. That is until the release of Summer of Soul (2021).

            This festival in particular was so culturally significant due to recent developments in the civil rights movement; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had died the prior year before the Civil Rights Act was signed.

Reflection

The movie was like a nostalgic time capsule, and I really enjoyed Questlove’s depiction of all the festivals. As a director, I think he did a good job blending the footage with the documentary explanations. It was important for him to include both the cultural and political impact this festival had; the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the growing presence of black people in political spaces are an integral part of why this festival was so big, as well as why it was shut down and the footage tucked away until recently. Overall, I enjoyed watching this documentary and I hope that they can find a way to release the raw footage for people to enjoy.

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