The Sizzling Summer Of Soul

What is the Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)?

The Summer of Soul is a documentary/concert film directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson that captures the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The Harlem Cultural Festival was the mark of a major turn point in the era of not only Black music, but Black culture in America. At a time of great activism and the beginning of a revolution, artists of all genres of music from blues to gospel as well as activists and politicians such as Reverend Jess Jackson and Mayor John Lindsay, came together to create an atmosphere unlike any other

Key Performances:

Stevie Wonder

Songs performed:

  • “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Da-Day”
  • “It’s Your Thing”
  • Drum Solo

Stevie Wonder was one of the most impactful performers of the festival. He was one of many artists that showed great development through sound and meaning of his music. He was able to transform his background of Jazz and Blues into something that contributed to revolutionizing and electrifying Black music with the utilization of instruments such as the Wah Wah pedal and lacing his lyrics with the message of Black liberation.

B.B. King

Songs Performed:

  • “Why I Sing the Blues”

BB King was well-known from the Blues era and being the King of Blues. He sang his song “Why I Sing the Blues” and through this he expressed the hardships that Black people have been through and were still facing at that time. His contribution to this concert was one that raised consciousness in all of Harlem. 

5th Dimension/Sly and The Family Stone

Songs Performed:

  • “Age of Aquarius/ Let the Sunshine” -5th Dimension
  • “Everyday People”-Sly and the Family Stone
  • “Higher” -Sly and the Family Stone

Starting off with the 5th Dimension, their choice of song was “Age of Aquarius” which lead to another song “Let the Sunshine In”. The significance of this performance was lyrics of their song Age of Aquarius which while it was talking about the time period that they were entering, was actually a song ahead of its time due to the Age of Aquarius being something that we see discussed in artists that erupted during the wave of New Age music in the 90’s. Continuing with that, both Sly and the Family Stone and 5th Dimension were seen as pioneers in their fashion sense and the way that they dressed. Wearing bright colors and unconventional fashion or what some would say “loud” patterns soon become a staple of fashion in the 1970’s. 

Mongo Santamaria

Song Performed

  • “Watermelon Man”

Although Harlem, New York was a place full of Afro-Cubans, their music is not something that was mainstream at the time. With the performance by Mongo Santamaria they brought an Afro-Cuban twist on the genre of jazz. Something that was new and brought a different, flavor, a different life to the world of Black jazz music.

The Staple Singers

Songs Performed:

  • “Help Me Jesus”
The Staples Singers were one of the Gospel acts that performed at the Harlem Festival. As described in the film, gospel was a way for Black people to fully let go and be themselves. There was a certain energy on the stage and in the crowd when The Staples Singers performed “Help Me Jesus”. Not only were they singing a message and a prayer, but their hearts were left on that stage and the hearts of those in the crowd were immediately lifted.

The Impact:

The Summer of Soul was one of the first major concerts where Black artists finally had the limelight and didn’t have to be superseded or followed up by White artists. Not only did it let us unleash our true, free, creative selves, but it was also a catalyst for change. Activism was the common theme and fighting for Black power is what these artists did throughout their performances.

Final Impression:

The Summer of Soul film by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, in my opinion, did a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the. Black community of this time. He was able to highlight the most impactful performances and also add in words from those who did perform as well as those who were fortunate enough to witness this greatness from the crowd. Not only was it a film full of fun and entertainment but the educational pieces that talked about things like the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the natural hair movement, and Dockery’s Farm left audiences with a well-rounded experience.