Marion’s Favorites: Summer of Soul

by | Jul 6, 2021 | Marion's Favorites, Movie Reviews | 0 comments


What has been, it is what will be,
And what has been done, it is what will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB Bible)

This scripture verse from my favorite book in the Bible is appropriate for my latest blog post. The book of Ecclesiastes is the most understood chapter in the Bible and the one I have connected with the most throughout my adult life.

I found out a few days ago that in 1969 there was another music festival in Harlem that was just important to American Pop Culture as Woodstock. The Harlem Cultural Festival happened just before Woodstock. However, there was never anything released to the public until now.  Questlove from the group The Roots created his first film about this festival. I’m so glad he did.

Summer of Soul chronicles a cross section of black music from gospel (Mahalia Jackson) to blues (B.B. King) to jazz (Max Roach) to R&B (Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone) to pop (5th Dimension) and Latin Jazz (Ray Barreto & Mongo Santamaria) to show the diversity of African-American based music.

1969 was a year of civil unrest.  Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, & Robert Kennedy had already passed away. It seemed the country was ready to explode with violence. The Harlem Cultural Festival helped in channeling black folks anger into how art can be balm in turbulent times.

My favorite part of the documentary is when the group 5th Dimension performs at the festival.  Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo spoke about how important it was for them to perform at the festival. Fifth Dimension was seen as a white group and their style of music catered to the mainstream. Marilyn revealed how that misinterpretation of their music really affected her, and being asked to perform at the festival meant a lot.

I appreciate Questlove bringing the Harlem Cultural Festival to the small screen and showcasing another part of American history that I did not about until I watched this documentary. I recommend Summer of Soul for music nerds like myself and documentary fans as well.


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Marion Hill