Summer of Soul (… or, when the revolution could not be televised)

While it won’t bother everyone, this joyful, historically important film suffered from a lack of editing.

Summer of Soul

Summer of Soul is a documentary of the Harlem cultural festival that took place over six weeks in the Summer of 1969.  Taking place the same year as Woodstock, the latter became legendary while this film was dumped in a basement and forgotten.

Rescued by Director Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, it shines a light on life in the U.S. in that year.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been gunned down. The Vietnam War, where thousands of black soldiers were dying, led to riots in the street.

 This festival allowed black citizens of Harlem a chance to experience some cultural identity along with the theater audience. They had the pleasure of listening to talented black singers like Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the PIPs, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King and the 5th Dimension among others. This was the clear highlight of the film.

The problem with the movie centered on its length of nearly two hours. Despite the joy of listening to the above singers, there was an unnecessary tedious period where you were forced to listen to gospel singers that even the Harlem crowd seemed to ignore. You also had to endure Jesse Jackson playing a role at the concert, still riding on the coattails of the late Dr. King.

However, pay attention to the ending. The performance of Nina Simone captured the Harlem crowd as no other singer succeeded in doing. Her singing Blacklash Blues help to exhume this historically meaningful film from the grave.

Let me close with urging all of you to watch the eight-part documentary on Apple entitled 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. Both this film and Summer allow you to remember the time music played a significant role in our lives.