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'Summer of Soul' is a musical celebration of Black joy

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The avidly awaited documentary Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—which premiered and won major awards at the Sundance Film Festival—is now in theaters and streaming on Hulu.

There is literally too much music in the film to cover here in one #BlackMusicSunday story. However, it is important to note that the film, covering the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, represents a sweeping range of Black music genres, including gospel, R&B, jazz, salsa, blues, and African drumming, as well as pop and rock. More importantly, it is not simply a series of performances; The film is about music that is inextricably linked to the lived political, cultural, and historical experience of Black people, not only from Harlem, but in the Black diaspora.

I’m one of the people chosen to offer commentary in the film; I thank Questlove and his producers for pursuing this journey through to its fruition. Though 52 years have passed, this story is needed more than ever: In a time where the Black community is under siege, our voting rights are being attacked once again, and we face life and death issues at the hands of police and vigilantes, along with the depredations of unequal health care in the time of COVID-19, we need joy.

We need our music, which has carried us through darker times than we face now, and will continue to do so, no matter what we face.

If you’ve missed all the media excitement about the film and the thousands of enthusiastic posts on social media, here’s the trailer.

This is how Searchlight Pictures describes Summer of Soul:

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.

In “Still Black, Still Proud: Unpacking the Untold Story of Harlem's 'Summer of Soul,'” The Root’s Felice Leon reviews the film.

The Harlem Cultural Festival. Have you ever heard of it?


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