Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Movie poster: Summer of Soul

I grew up know­ing of and lis­ten­ing to the music from Woodstock. I have seen the film numer­ous times and lis­tened to the album of the same name. The music and sig­nif­i­cance are
etched in my mind. 

But some­thing else hap­pened dur­ing the sum­mer of 1969: the Harlem Cultural Festival, of which I was unaware until recent­ly. On six con­sec­u­tive week­ends, orga­niz­ers held con­certs in Mount Morris (now Marcus Garvey) Park in Harlem — with an esti­mat­ed 300,000 peo­ple attend­ing. These con­certs were record­ed on film, but after­wards TV pro­duc­er Hal Tulchin could find nobody inter­est­ed in turn­ing the film footage into a larg­er project, part­ly due to the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Woodstock. So the films sat in a base­ment for 50 years.

They were even­tu­al­ly redis­cov­ered, and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson made it his project to pro­duce a doc­u­men­tary film from the 40+ hours of record­ed footage. The award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary was released in 2021. The music includes blues, gospel, R&B, and funk with per­for­mances by Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, and many others. 

The film fea­tures stun­ning visu­als reveal­ing vibrant fash­ion, the enor­mi­ty of the audi­ence, close-up footage of the per­form­ers, and the joy of the per­form­ers and atten­dees. It’s a vibrant cel­e­bra­tion of Black Pride against the back­drop of the moon land­ing, the Vietnam War, the Nixon White House, and the assas­si­na­tions of MLK and RFK the pre­vi­ous year.

I saw the movie at the Kentucky Theatre on Saturday, where it is show­ing once dai­ly through
Thursday, April 14. My take­away from this remark­able film is the sto­ry of these con­certs and
the inte­gral role music played in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary movement. 

I was deeply moved by the film and dis­ap­point­ed that this recent his­to­ry was not known by most folks like me for all these years. I high­ly rec­om­mend it — both to enjoy its music and acquaint your­self with his­to­ry from a Black perspective. 

If you can not get to the Kentucky Theater before the last show­ing on Thursday, you can stream the film free on Hulu (a free tri­al is avail­able) or Disney+. It can be rent­ed for $5.99 on Amazon Prime. It is well worth your time.

  • Sabrina Puckett

    Sabrina Puckett has lived in Winchester since 1989. In 2015 she retired from her work in Adult Protective Services with the State after 26 years. Since then, she has worked in Winchester in home­less ser­vices and com­mu­ni­ty men­tal health. She is a mem­ber of Better Together Winchester, Emmanual Episcopal Church, and is a mem­ber of the WinCity News and Views advi­so­ry board. Her favorite role cur­rent­ly is grand­moth­er to a red-head­ed tod­dler boy.