“Summer of Soul” is the story of the 1969 Harlem cultural festival at Mount Morris Park, 100 miles south of Woodstock. The festival lasted several days and was filmed, but footage was not released apart from a few news clips at the time. Thompson went through 40 hours of never-before-seen footage, which included performances by black music icons like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, BB King, the Staple Singers, David Ruffin and the 5th dimension. If you liked “The Beatles: Get Back” (which also featured never-before-seen footage filmed in 1969), then put “Summer of Soul” on your watchlist.
The film also talks about the history of music in Harlem and how different cultural communities influenced the era and its musical expression. The footage is stunning, and as someone who had never heard of this festival before the documentary, I recommend it as a must see. It not only gives you real insight into a powerful era in music and world history, it puts it into context with discussions from the likes of Gladys Knight, Reverend Al Sharpton, Chris Rock, Sheila E, Lin-Manuel Miranda and more.
According to your feelings on Spotify, you can listen to the soundtrack of the documentary right now. There’s live music from the 1969 festival and it’s pretty amazing.
“Summer of Soul” airs on ABC on February 20 at 8 p.m. EST.