What was the Summer of Soul?
This is a documentary film created by the famous musician, “Questlove”, to show America the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. The Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of concerts that lasted about 6 weeks. Black artists performed and recognized African American music. This film depicts what this festival did to celebrate black music, influence political views, and display the cultural impact it had on the black community.
Tony Lawrence, a singer and actor, organized this festival in order to celebrate black music. Harlem was known to be the black capital of America. It was important to Lawrence that the festival was held there. He had to persuade agents and artists representatives to allow the musical acts to be performed in Harlem. This event had 300,000 people. All black.
A white man, Hal Tuchin, was the person that recorded about 50 hours of the film festival. He did nothing with it and it just sat in a basement until 2021. Amidst all these white festivals were filmed,released, and easily accessible. This film being released allows for these black artist and their music/ performances to be recognized.
Lots of politics was brought into this. Starting with the fact that Mayor John Lindsay showed massive support for the festival. He was a progressive Republican who dealt with racial tensions and his administration was dedicated to civil rights. This festival took place at the height of civil rights. This was right after Martin Luther King was assassinated, an inspirational civil rights activist. The Black Panthers were active at this time. The black panthers were even at the festival as bodyguards. Some disguised in regular clothes and some in all black. Just in case white people tried to attack or pull something. Protesting and activism was extremely common at this time in the black community. Many people speculate that allowing the series of concerts was Lindsay’s way of trying to end the riots that kept happening in Harlem.
Most of all… the cultural impact. There were 300,000 people in Harlem attending this Cultural Festival. All black. They came together. And with everything going on around them, they were able to be joyful. There was an introduction to black fashion, appreciation of black women, and new black music. Black people were seeing their shared culture with each other first hand.
The 5th Dimension
The Summer of Soul was an impactful documentary. It captured the feelings and emotions of African-Americans in the 1960s, a monumental time for the community. It showed how important music was to African Americans and how through expressing it, people could celebrate and come together.