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Entertainment In 1969, Woodstock overshadowed a groundbreaking Harlem music festival. Questlove's 'Summer of Soul' rescues it from the forgotten pages of history.

12:28  09 july  2021
12:28  09 july  2021 Source:   insider.com

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' Summer of Soul ' centers on the Harlem Cultural Festival . As depicted in the documentary, in 1969 , New York City' s Parks Department hired local entertainer and connector Tony Lawrence to organize and promote summer programming. The resulting festival lineup was a who' s who of music , with a series of free concerts dominating Sunday afternoons from June to August in Harlem ' s Mount Morris Park. Long before Coachella, Afropunk, and Rolling Loud, the Harlem Cultural Festival delivered must-see performances by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Sly & The Family Stone, Eddie Ruffin, Mahalia

The Harlem Cultural Festival (also known as Black Woodstock ) was a series of music concerts held in Harlem , Manhattan, New York City during the summer of 1969 to celebrate African American music and culture and to promote the continued politics of black pride.

a person standing in front of a crowd: Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone in a scene from the documentary © Searchlight Pictures Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone in a scene from the documentary "Summer of Soul." Searchlight Pictures
  • "Summer of Soul," a new film directed by Questlove, hit theaters and Hulu on July 2.
  • The movie centers on the Harlem Cultural Festival, the forgotten "Black Woodstock" of 1969.
  • Questlove didn't even know it existed before he was shown footage of the music event.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hulu's "Summer of Soul" has all the trappings of a Questlove film, starting in the first five minutes of the documentary.

Those opening moments show an energetic 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, dressed in a snazzy brown suit and mustard-colored shirt, beating tom tom drums, hi-hats, and cymbals at 1969's Harlem Cultural Festival.

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Summer of Soul , the new documentary from Questlove , spotlights 1969 ’ s Harlem Cultural Festival , a series of concerts that entertainer turned promoter Tony Lawrence presented in Harlem ’ s Mount Morris Park in the summer of 1969 . But less than two months after the final HCF show that August, Lawrence set his eyes on an equally momentous event The show was filmed by Hal Tulchin, who had also shot the Harlem Cultural Festival , and the footage aired as an hour-long local TV special in 1969 . The 55-minute long broadcast can be viewed online in full as part of the University of Georgia’ s Walter.

But Questlove , the director of a new documentary about a pathbreaking Harlem music festival that took place over six weeks in the summer of 1969 , said there is another side to gospel that is no less a release. “There was a lot of, I guess what we can call primal musical expression or primitive exotic expression or just layman’ s term, people acting wild,” Questlove , the leader of The Roots, the house band for “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” told Religion News Service during a June 22 virtual news conference.

It was a conscious decision not to simply show footage of Wonder performing his usual wizardry at the keyboard, according to The Roots drummer and filmmaker Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, who directed the film. Opening on this moment highlights something many may not have known about Wonder's artistry, setting the stage for a film that serves as a vital education in Black music history in the span of 117 minutes.

"I figured this was the best way for me to crash land into your lives as the director without it really being about me," Questlove told Insider of the film's introduction during a virtual press conference ahead of its July 2 release. "We haven't seen Stevie Wonder in this light as a drummer. That was the perfect beginning."

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A Festival Dream Deferred No More: Inside Questlove ’ s ‘ Summer of Soul ’. How the Roots’ drummer brought the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival to the big screen after 50 years. The 5th Dimension perform in June 1969 at the Harlem Cultural Festival , whose story is told in Questlove ' s new film ' Summer of Soul .' CBS/Getty Images. Questlove was skeptical. In early 2019, the Roots’ drummer was approached by two Hollywood producers who claimed to have 45 hours of footage from a long- forgotten music festival in Harlem that had included performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina

Ahmir Khalib Thompson (born January 20, 1971), known professionally as Questlove (stylized as ?uestlove), is an American musician, songwriter, disc jockey and music journalist.

'Summer of Soul' centers on the Harlem Cultural Festival

As depicted in the documentary, in 1969, New York City's Parks Department hired local entertainer and connector Tony Lawrence to organize and promote summer programming.

The resulting festival lineup was a who's who of music, with a series of free concerts dominating Sunday afternoons from June to August in Harlem's Mount Morris Park. Long before Coachella, Afropunk, and Rolling Loud, the Harlem Cultural Festival delivered must-see performances by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Sly & The Family Stone, Eddie Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, and Ray Barretto.

It was also unapologetically Black, from the fashion to the hairstyles to the vibrant activism.

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Jazz singer, actor, and civil rights campaigner Abbey Lincoln in a scene from the documentary © Searchlight Pictures Jazz singer, actor, and civil rights campaigner Abbey Lincoln in a scene from the documentary "Summer of Soul." Searchlight Pictures

Coming on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War protests, and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and 1968, respectively, the concert featured politically active artists, including Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach, Hugh Masekela, and Nina Simone.

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During the same summer as Woodstock in 1969 , Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and more played a series of free concerts in Harlem intended to be a celebration of Black pride. Called the Harlem Cultural Festival and attended by more than 300,000 people, the shows were largely forgotten , and the recordings languished in a basement for decades. More than 50 years later, Ahmir “ Questlove ” Thompson tells the story of the 1969 event known colloquially as the “Black Woodstock ” in a new film heading to Sundance entitled Summer of Soul (…Or When the

Ahmir " Questlove " Thompson' s film centers on the Harlem Cultural Festival and features rare, unseen footage featuring Stevie Wonder [who performs an epic drum solo to kick off the film], Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Mavis Staples, B.B. King and more from the six-week concert series at Harlem ’ s Mount Morris Park in 1969 . In the narrative, the concert and the acts who played it mirrored the cultural revolution that was taking place in the Black community after the devastating events of 1968, which included the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Plus, the festival happened weeks


Video: Questlove unearths 1969 Harlem music event in ‘Summer of Soul’ (The Canadian Press)

The documentary features a particularly searing clip that's emblematic of the festival, where the incomparable Simone asks a sea of rapt faces, "Are you ready, Black people? Are you really ready? Ready to do what is necessary? To do what is necessary to do?" The crowd collectively screams, "Yeah!" Music from Simone, Masekela, Lincoln, Roach, and others became the soundtrack for political unrest.

While the festival entertained, moved, and ministered to a total of 300,000 people, it was overshadowed by Woodstock, which happened 100 miles away that same summer in Bethel, New York. What was a huge cultural moment in music history practically faded from collective memory.

Even Questlove, the ultimate soul music fan, didn't know this piece of Black music history existed.

"I inadvertently saw the footage back when The Roots first went to Tokyo in 1997. And my translator for that tour, who knew I was a soul fan, took me to the Soul Train Café," he told reporters. "Unbeknownst to me, I watched two minutes of Sly & The Family Stone's performance."

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He continued: "I didn't know I was watching the Harlem Cultural Festival. I just assumed that all festivals in the '60s were from Europe, because America really didn't have that culture yet."

'Summer of Soul' was crafted from hours of original video footage of the festival - but it's only a small portion of what exists on film

Filmmaker and TV veteran Hal Tulchin captured 40 hours worth of performances, featuring a blend of soul music, salsa, and free jazz, but Questlove said only 10 to 15 percent of that treasure made it into the film.

Tulchin shot the historic event on video with hopes of selling it to TV, but there weren't any takers. He gave up around 1978 and the film canisters lived in a dry room - in pristine condition - in Tulchin's basement until his death four years ago. Then, Hollywood producers David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent, who'd approached Tulchin about his shelved footage in 2006, asked Questlove to direct what would become "Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)."

a group of people standing in a room: The 5th Dimension performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in a scene from the documentary © Searchlight Pictures The 5th Dimension performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in a scene from the documentary "Summer of Soul." Searchlight Pictures

He was hesitant. Out of all of the Philadelphia son's creative projects - he's an author, podcaster, and Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" musical director - this one made him nervous. Why? Because artists can be neurotic, "living inside our heads," he said. The Roots frontman also said he's more comfortable behind the invisible shield between him and his audience. Or so he thought.

Questlove Makes His Directorial Debut with Summer of Soul: 'This Was My Chance to Restore History'

  Questlove Makes His Directorial Debut with Summer of Soul: 'This Was My Chance to Restore History' "I return this film back to the people of Harlem," he tells PEOPLE about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival documentaryThe Roots drummer and co-frontman (born Ahmir Khalib Thompson) told PEOPLE about the challenges of directing the documentary. "The amount of anxiety of the last three years taking responsibility for this film and thinking of ideas and even trying to navigate this film in terms of the pandemic - because a big part of the editing process and interview process had to happen while we were in the middle of the pandemic - I'm just so, so relieved that it's finally out there.

After wrapping "Summer of Soul," the beloved drummer admitted that spearheading the film helped him "develop as a human" and respect the power of editing.

The first cut of "Summer of Soul's" was almost four hours long. But it had to be trimmed to a succinct two hours to "hit you in the gut." It cleverly weaves performances with news coverage of Apollo 11 landing on the moon and interviews with festival-goers, musicians, and activists, like Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. (of the 5th Dimension); Denise Oliver-Velez (The Young Lords Party); Cyril "Bullwhip" Innis Jr. (Black Panther Party) and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The film earned the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at 2021's Sundance Film Festival, so don't expect this to be Questlove's only directorial foray. "This is not my last rodeo with telling our stories," he said. "If anything, I'm more obsessed now more than ever to make sure that history is correct."

"Summer of Soul" is now in theaters and streaming on Hulu.

Read the original article on Insider

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