Summer of Soul Film Review

Kassandra Grullon

Overall Summary

Perhaps one of the biggest things to hit the streets of Harlem, New York, occurred in the summer of 1969. During the hot summer months, Harlem was home to one of the most prominent Black musical celebrations of the time. For six consecutive weeks, The Harlem Cultural Festival delivered a series of concerts with some of the most famous and influential Black artists of the time. During the festival’s duration, over 300,000 black people attended and celebrated black culture and music. The Harlem Music Festival was not just a concert, but Black history.

Artists & Genres

Featuring over 25 musical artists over six weeks, the Harlem Cultural Festival was a concert with the most prominent Black musical acts of the time. Artists and groups like B.B Kings, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Edwin Hawkins, 5th Dimension, and Gladys Knight and the Pimps are a few of the many talented people that performed for those in celebration of Black culture. The festival was a cross-section of the music of the time, incorporating genres like Blues, Jazz, Folk, Gospel, and even Puerto Rican Salsa.

Contextual Analysis/ Time Period/ Culture

The 1960s were filled with great disappointments for the Black community. From the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X to the war in Vietnam to the heroin epidemic, the Black community was in great need of an escape from all the pain and suffering that filled the decade. Finally, for the first time in 1969, the Black community was able to find solace in all the madness. The Harlem Cultural Festival provided the Black community with the escape they needed. Through the songs and lyrics of artists like Nina Simone, Blacks found inspiration and were able to feel liberated from all the pain occurring around them, even if it was for the duration of the concert. 

Full of life and embrace, The Harlem Cultural Festival was the first time in Black history that there was a celebration and acceptance of Black culture of such magnitude. Afros, dashikis, and bellbottoms filled the festival as the audience heard affirmations from performers reminding them that being black was beautiful and that one should be proud to be Black. As a result, the festival became a safe place to showcase Black talent and culture. 

It was bringing together artists and people from different backgrounds that set the Harlem Cultural Festival apart from any other music festival. It was the first time where Latin and Black artists performed together. Cuban and Puerto Rican artists like Watermelon Man performed for the crowds during this summer. The festival showcased all black cultures, including those of African, Latin, and Caribbean descent. 

The Harlem music festival was not just a showcase of black talent but a political statement of Black and Brown communities. 

Overall Impression of Concert

The Harlem Cultural festival is in my opinion on of the greatest showcases of black talent. The festival did an amazing job of uplifting the Black community at a time when it seem like no one cared, this festival brought life back to people who felt like they lost all. I wish I was alive in 1969 to attend and soak in the Black magic that was occurring over those 6 weeks. 

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