Premiere: Featurette of ‘Summer of Soul’ doc shows historic festival from fan’s perspective

EXCLUSIVE: In this clip from "Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)," Musa Jackson speaks about his childhood experience of attending the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

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The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is one of the greatest collections of Black artistic talent that has gone virtually unknown in American history. Despite featuring acts like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knights & The Pips, Mahalia Jackson, and B.B. King, the event has gone forgotten in history.

A new documentary on the festival, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised), attempts to bring light to this historic gathering. theGrio premieres an exclusive featurette that shows the lasting effect it had on those who attended the festival over 50 years ago.

Photo: City Parks Foundation

In this 90-second excerpt from the film, directed by Roots drummer and bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, you hear the testimony of Musa Jackson, a Harlem native who went to the Harlem Cultural Festival as a child and recounted his memories of being in the company of his people.

“I was a little kid,” Jackson recalls. “I remember being with my family, walking around the park, and as far as I could see, it was just Black people. This is the first time I’d ever seen so many of us. It was incredible.”

As Jackson was reminiscing about his experience, footage of Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park (currently known as Marcus Garvey Park) filled with a sea of people with numerous hues of Black and brown skin, dashikis and shirts with neckties, straighten hair and afros. All of them gathered over six weekends to see Black music and comedy luminaries like Nina Simone, Sly and the Family and Moms Mabley.

“Families, fathers, mothers, kids running around,” Jackson continued. “I was one of those kids, beautiful, beautiful women, beautiful men. It was like seeing royalty around the park.”

Indeed you see regal Black women on screen, with a hair-wrap as their crown and a picnic blanket as their thrown—Regal Black men, with stoic expressions and sunglasses. Jackson distinctly remembered his experience right down to the scent in the air.

“It smelt like Afro sheen and chicken growing up in Harlem.”

Jackson initially called the Harlem Cultural Festival “the ultimate Black barbecue.” However, as pop music stars 5th Dimension hit the stage by the end of the featurette, he soon realized “it was something bigger.” He was right about that.  

Summer Of Soul made its debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and marks Questlove’s directorial debut. The documentary will mark the first time the public will see the unearthed footage of this festival, captured a crucial cultural junction for African-Americans, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the evolution of Motown Records and coinciding with the moon landing.

As this featurette shows, the film will not only highlight excerpts of a shelved concert film but show the perspective of those who lived it, those who appreciated how much the music and art meant to the Harlem community artistically, culturally, politically and fashion-wise.

The film is set to premiere in theaters and on Hulu on July 2.

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