Summer of Soul

Film Summary/Analysis:

 In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture, and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past, and present. 

Contextual Analysis

The Harlem Culture Festival of 1969 was a collection of live performances in Harlem, New York City. Festivalgoers were primarily gathered for the celebration of Black culture and music traditions. The celebration-often referred to as the “Black Woodstock”- featured legendary artists in Black music such as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, and Gladys Knight. From a general perspective, the 1960s were characterized by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights protests, assassinations of US President JFK and Martin Luther King, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, Digging deeper, The decade in which this cultural crossroad took place was described as a change of era within the black community, a “wholesale reevaluation of our history and our culture”. Our people had lost their leading advocates following the peak of the civil rights movement. This festival took our entire history, including every black-made genre of music up to that point, and put it on display. This performance and the decade that would follow would serve as the decade of “black power”; the Black Consciousness Revolution.


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

Performance Analysis

each artist gave a nod to each genre of black music. B.B king with an ‘electrified jazz/blues sound (introduced by T-bone Walker and muddy waters in the 30s-40s) and fusion developed by miles Davis. It can also be noted that there is also a distinct funk to his performance. The Edwin Hawkins Singers performed a gospel piece (the genre developed in the early 1900s). Sly also served as a controversial nod to the jubilee quartet, pointing out the vast differences between the two, such as their lack of uniform and shocking diversity, loudness, etc. Mongo Santamaria brought forth the Pan-African aspect of the black revolution and similarity to the sound of the Djembe drum of one of the first sounds of black music.

“I knew Something very important was happening in Harlem that day. It wasn’t just about the Music. We wanted to progress. We are black people and we should be proud of this. We wanted OUR PEOPLE lifting us up”- Gladys Knight"

“Something new done happened now. We are not African, we are not European, we are a new people. We are a beautiful people”

Cultural Impact

At this point and time, black Americans had lost faith in the country, angered at witnessing many of their advocates and leaders killed. This combined with protests, police brutality, the disproportionate representation of black men in the Vietnam war, and countless other hardships left black America at a crossroads. The black community was divided between those advocating for non-violence and self-defense and The anger festering within the black community was at its boiling point. This concert may well have been a distraction to prevent another race riot however it introduced a turning point in the black community; an understanding that we built this country and it was okay to be black. Such can be seen as the festival’s use of the Black Panthers as security rather than police officers.

‘69 was the pivotal year where the negroe died and black was born”