In 2017, musician Ahmir Thompson, better known as ‘Questlove’, gained access to 40 hours of never-before-seen footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a music festival that took place over a timespan of six weeks, celebrating Black music and Black culture.
For 50 years, footage of this festival had been collecting dust in a basement— media, television, and film companies had no interest in it, perhaps because around the same time, just 100 miles north, the well-known ‘Woodstock Festival’ was underway.
The Harlem Cultural Festival became known as ‘Black Woodstock’, and many of the festival-goers even referred to it as ‘the Black barbeque’. It was a gathering of dancing and singing, and a celebration Black history and Black resistance, but the festival also served as a space for comradery and healing during times of tension, unrest and severe oppression of Black Americans in the 1960s.
The festival took place in Mount Morris Park, which is now the Marcus Garvey Park, and performers included Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension, and more.
The heartfelt documentary pieced together by Questlove includes concert footage, interviews from prominent Black voices, and even reflections from attendees of the festival.
‘Summer of Soul’ is available now on Hulu, and well worth the watch. Consider this documentary the latest act of fighting against the unfortunate common theme of Black history erasure in America.