Summer of Soul Review

What was the "Summer of Soul"?

The documentary “Summer of Soul” explores the biggest soul festival, the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. The festival went on for 6 weeks on every Sunday starting on June 29th through August 24th and was hosted by Tony Lawrence in Mountain Morris Park. Throughout the 6 weeks the festival attracted over 300,000 people. All 6 weeks of the festival were filmed, but after the festival ended the footage stayed in a basement for 50 years because the festival wasn’t believed to be an important part of history. Some interesting facts about the festival is that due to a lack of funding, the Black Panthers offered to be security for the festival which was highly necessary because of the high turnout of the festival. Additionally, because the cost of proper lighting and production was too high, the stage needed to take place during the day and was placed in a position where the stage was lit by the sun.

Cultural Impact Of the Harlem Music Festival

Harlem was made of many different cultures in the late 60s. There was a cultural revolution, as new styles such as afros and bell bottoms became popularized. The Harlem Cultural festival celebrated black history and culture. It brought many different types of black people together, such as Jamaicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. The Harlem Cultural festival served as a pause from civil unrest throughout the United States in the late 60s including riots, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, and anti-war protests. While Woodstock occurred at the same time about 100 miles away in upstate New York and became one of the most celebrated music festivals in American culture, the history of the Harlem Cultural Festival was nearly erased. Activists and politicians believed it was the best place to discuss issues Black Americans faced at the time. Overall, the Harlem Cultural Festival provided a safe space for Black Americans in the late 1960’s and helped bring people together during a very difficult time in American history. 

Some Notable Performers

Nina Simone

B.B. King

Stevie Wonder

Sly and the Family Stone

My thoughts on the documentary:

I think that this festival was an extremely notable event and it’s a shame that it has been unknown and undiscovered for so long. I liked this documentary because it introduced me to many artists I didn’t know about such as Sly and the Family Stone. Additionally, this documentary is extremely important because it brings to light the fact that there are many experiences that Black Americans have been through but they have been downplayed or hidden.