Summer of Soul: Sly Stone (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures)

Starring: The Performers and Attendees of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

Director: Questlove

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Rock ‘n’ Roll

Release Date: June 25, 2021 (New York and Los Angeles)/July 2, 2021 (Expanding Theatrically/Hulu)

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is widely known as “Black Woodstock,” and if you watch the Questlove-directed concert documentary Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), it’s pretty obvious why. Two landmark music festivals, held in the same summer, in the same state, only about 100 miles apart. One of them has enjoyed one of the biggest footprints in American cultural history. The other was permanently relegated to the dustbin … until now.

Summer of Soul: The 5th Dimension (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures)

A lot of major acts who are still famous today performed at Woodstock, and one year after the festival was held, a documentary about it was released, thereby cementing its legacy. A lot of major acts who are still famous today also performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival, but there would be no documentary to spread its reputation right away. But that’s not because it wasn’t recorded! The footage was just sitting in someone’s basement for decades, waiting to be re-discovered. Well, it finally has been re-discovered, as Roots frontman Questlove got his hands on it. He knows a thing or two about putting a show together, and that evidently extends to assembling vintage concert footage into a satisfying package, as Summer of Soul revives the Harlem Cultural Festival for a new generation with a generous mix of performances and interviews with the surviving performers and attendees.

To convince you to watch Summer of Soul, I’m pretty sure all that I need to do is list as many members of the lineup as possible. If you enjoy any bit of popular music from the late 60s, you’re going to find something to love here. Seriously, check this list out: Stevie Wonder, the Chambers Brothers, B.B. King, Herbie Mann, the 5th Dimension, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the Staples Singers, Clara Walker and the Gospel Redeemers, Mahalia Jackson, Ben Branch, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Sonny Sharrock, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Hugh Masekela, and Nina Simone. I imagine each individual viewer will have their own highlights; I’ll go ahead and spotlight a few of my own.

Summer of Soul: Nina Simone (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures)

Nina Simone is a vision of self-assuredness and regality; her performance of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is truly a gift to anyone willing to open their soul up to it. The 5th Dimension are the beating heart of Summer of Soul, as we get to see their spirited renditions of “Don’tcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” A scene of founding members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. on the verge of tears as they watch footage of themselves from 50 years ago is a rare treat. And then there’s Sly and the Family Stone, who feel like they’ve been beamed in from another planet. Their psychedelic sensibility is a path to the promise of a more hopeful future.

I’m so happy that Summer of Soul exists. I can’t wait to watch every performance over and over again.

Summer of Soul is Recommended If You Like: Good Music

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 City Parks