SUMMER OF SOUL (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) - A TREASURE REVEALED
Sly Stone wrote the song, "Everyday People," released in 1969. He and his group, The Family Stone, sang the anthem about all of us being the same no matter their race or creed, at what organizer/producer/host Tony Lawrence called the Black Woodstock, billed as the Harlem Cultural Festival. The series of concerts took place in Mt. Morris Park, Harlem, Manhattan, New York--the same summer as Woodstock--but unlike the well-known concert bought by a distributor, this filmed compilation of concerts, ended up in a warehouse basement. No buyer could be found. Recorded history essentially tossed in the trash and only discovered recently.
Director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, who hooks us with his brilliant introduction to Summer of Soul (2021), interweaves commentary by some who attended, others who participated (including Gladys Knight, and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. of The 5th Dimension), along with those who helped stage the concert.
The revelations from this film astound. 300,000 people, almost all black--families; young, old--came to see the celebration of soul. Multiple additional genres, blues, gospel, Motown, pop, psychedelic soul; Latin soul played/performed by artists such as B.B. King, The Edwin Hawkins Singers, Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone, and Ray Barretto, also were performed. An array of talent across the musical spectrum united for a purpose.
In between the various clips, narration explaining the pain blacks felt that summer (still reeling from the assassinations of JFK, Malcom X, RFK, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) sounds familiar today. One telling comment from an audience member dismissing the imminent moon landing, "Don't care. The money should be used for the poor," expressing the anger, desperation of an often-dismissed community.
One evening a young Reverend Jesse Jackson commands the podium, briefly. However, Pop Staples (listen closely to his early experiences) and The Staple Singers performing "Help Me Jesus;" Mavis Staples singing "Precious Lord Take My Hand" with Mahalia Jackson; Nina Simone inciting a frenzy of adoration as she comes on stage to sing "Backlash Blues," these artists had the audience spellbound.
Powerful lyrics e.g., B.B. King's "Why I Sing the Blues" act as a link to the past, a reminder of the present and a hope for the future, combined with passionate narrative, the Festival "...wasn't just music, we wanted progress," (Gladys Knight) served as a cultural awakening, a revolution in style (one attendee described Sly Stone as a proto-Prince), a shout-out to the world.
Unfortunately, unless you went to these concerts or performed on stage, the Festival became a distant memory until now. A forgotten, historical treasure not to be missed, see Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) to appreciate the joy and pain that blacks experienced in 1969 via their words; their music.
Available via The Provincetown Film Festival then Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV and on Hulu.
See my reviews of just released/shown Festival movies, with more to come, on this website.
MASKS ARE REQUIRED AT ALL INDOOR SCREENINGS FOR THE FESTIVAL.
Special thanks to the organizers, participants and volunteers who have made The 2021 Provincetown (International) Film Festival possible. See you next year!
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies
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