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The Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

This wonderful documentary comes from the summer of 1969, the same year of Woodstock when there was another big cultural event that summer: A concert series at Mount Morris Park. That summer, across several Sundays, the Harlem Culture Festival featured some of the biggest names among Black singers of the era. According to the film, nearly 50 hours of film were shot, and most of it was locked away in a basement for about 50 years, as no one at the time felt that it was worthy of a film. The movie includes a combination of this lost footage and interviews with some of the artists and those who attended the concert and what it meant to them. I loved this film. It is another example of a music documentary doing its job – giving us a history lesson of the culture of the era, complete with nods to some of the biggest events, such as the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and providing some darned great concert footage. A lot of different music styles are presented – Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, the Fifth Dimension (who many thought was too White) – that are reflective of the diversity of music and ideas of the era. I was amazed that we have heard so much about Woodstock but nearly nothing of this event that meant just as much to a large swath of people across the country. Great, great film – it made me wish I could have seen this live. I was absorbed by this film as much as I was for the Velvet Underground, also from this year. (2021; 5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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