Stunning ‘Summer of Soul’ Film of ‘Lost’ 1969 Music Festival Gets Soundtrack

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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 & 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 (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), was released on July 2, 2021, in theaters and Hulu, from first-time director, Ahmir Thompson, better known as “Questlove.” Watch the great official trailer from Searchlight Pictures below.

The film’s official soundtrack was finally released by Sony Legacy on CD on Jan. 28, 2022, with 17 live renditions curated by Questlove of jazz, blues, R&B, Latin, and soul classics performed over the course of the festival as chronicled by the film.

See the complete track listing and listen to several of the performances below.

The film will be released on DVD on Feb. 8. A vinyl version of the soundtrack will be available later in the year.

Listen to Sly & the Family Stone’s performance of “Sing a Simple Song”

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.

Listen to the 5th Dimension perform “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)”

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.

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.

Listen to the Edwin Hawkins Singers sing their unlikely pop hit

Witnessing Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. watching themselves perform 1969’s biggest single, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” and sharing the story about how 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.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Tracklisting
The Chambers Brothers – “Uptown”
B.B. King – “Why I Sing The Blues”
The 5th Dimension – “Don’t Cha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya”
The 5th Dimension – “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)”
David Ruffin – “My Girl”
The Edwin Hawkins Singers – “Oh Happy Day”
The Staple Singers – “It’s Been A Change”
The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra & Choir Featuring Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples – “Precious Lord Take My Hand”
Gladys Knight & The Pips – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
Mongo Santamaria – “Watermelon Man”
Ray Barretto – “Together”
Herbie Mann- “Hold On, I’m Comin’”
Sly & The Family Stone – “Sing A Simple Song”
Sly & The Family Stone – “Everyday People”
Nina Simone – “Backlash Blues”
Nina Simone – “Are You Ready”

The film has a 99% positive rating on content aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It’s nominated for “Best Music Film” at the 2022 GRAMMY® Awards and is available to watch on Hulu.

Related: The great lost rock festival of 1969

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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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.

    Reply this comment

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