Summer of Soul Review
by: Ta’Niyah Armstrong
The documentary “Summer of Soul” produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson highlights the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969. The program shows never-before seen footage of the festival and includes accounts from its attendees and performers. The Harlem Cultural Festival itself showcased African American creation and culture. The historical relevance of the concert and its impact on the black majority lives on through the 2021 televised recording of the event.
Hosted by Tony Lawrence, the Harlem Cultural Festival was a collection of over two dozen musicians, including Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, and Mahalia Jackson. The incorporation of genres like R&B, Gospel, Funk, Soul, Salsa, and Jazz, ensured that every angle of African American culture was on display. This was especially important considering the lack of black representation in the media.
Prior to the festival, the black community had suffered the loss of many respected black activists. This included the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and the Kennedys. The Heroin epidemic was also taking a toll on Harlem and its black population. Considering these hardships, black people needed an outlet for emotion and pent-up sadness. During what was labeled as the “ultimate black barbecue,” black people could forget about the troubles of oppression and enjoy an afternoon of music and festivities.
The 5th Dimension
Their performance highlighted the importance of addressing colorism and colonialism in music. Many people believed that the group was whitewashed and weren’t ‘black enough.’ The members made it a point for their music to be perceived by their intended audience: black people. The success and importance of this group’s performance made a point to dismantle the belief that music can be a select color.
Erin Hawkins Singers
This gospel performance group defied all standards set for the genre of gospel music. The Pentecostal church did not support them because they often performed in bars and clubs. Still, they, and Pop Staple and the Staple singers, were invited to the festival because gospel music embodies every other genre of music.
I really enjoyed the entire documentary. It was relieving to finally see a raw and authentic depiction of blackness in media instead of reenactments. It is essential to constantly remind modern America of music’s significance to African American people. Music is often a point of survival and a means of resilience against oppression, which is represented beautifully in Summer of Soul.