Stunning ‘Summer of Soul’ Film Documents ‘Lost’ 1969 Music Festival

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Gladys Knight & the Pips in Summer of Soul

Over the course of six weekends in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of the site of the Woodstock Festival, the Harlem Cultural Festival, with such stars as Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, and Gladys Knight & the Pips, was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten. A new feature-length documentary about the concerts, Summer of Soul, was released on July 2, 2021, in theaters and Hulu, from first-time director, Ahmir Thompson, better known as “Questlove.” Watch the spectacular official trailer from Searchlight Pictures below.

The film weaves many outstanding music performances, with contemporary interviews from many of the participants, attendees, and observers, all of whom are seeing the “lost” footage for the first time. It also incorporates historical clips of what was occurring in New York (and America) during that pivotal year.

The festival was organized by promoter and singer Tony Lawrence, who is shown to be a natural host for the weekly concerts, with an ease and flair that engaged the audience. At one point, he introduces then-New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay with humor and respect, as Hizzoner is embraced by the crowd.

As the film’s press announcement states, it “stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present.”

Wonder was just 19 that summer but had been shaping music for years. Sly and the Family Stone had two big hits under their belt and the film includes three of their performances including a show-stopping “Higher.” Gladys Knight & the Pips were in the midst of their phenomenal chart run.

Besides those top-billed stars, the feature also includes never-before-seen concert performances by the 5th Dimension, Nina Simone (an exceptional “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”), Hugh Masekela, Ray Baretto, and more.

Witnessing Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. watching themselves perform 1969’s biggest single, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” and sharing the story about they came to record it, is a highlight.

The audience shots are part of what makes Summer of Soul such a joy to watch. Their reactions to both the performances and to many of the moving speeches given by musicians and dignitaries like the commanding 27-year-old Jesse Jackson are revelatory.

Watch the official trailer

Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – its official, full name – premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

The film has a 99% positive rating on content aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Related: The great lost rock festival of 1969

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  1. Cisley
    #1 Cisley 30 April, 2021, 12:36

    I cannot wait to see Summer of Soul. Looks amazing.

    Reply this comment
  2. v2787
    #2 v2787 4 July, 2021, 23:49

    I saw it in a theater today. Fantastic movie. Everyone should see it.

    Reply this comment
  3. Duke
    #3 Duke 5 July, 2021, 01:47

    So disappointed in this movie. Almost every performance was interrupted by an interview. Couldn’t they have done the interviews between the songs rather than during them. Ruined it for me.

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