Summer of the soul: Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo (aka 2 / 5ths of The Fifth Dimension) are delighted with past performances.
Where were you on July 20, 1969? Unless you’re one of the lucky thousands to have been to Mount Morris Park for the opening of the Harlem Cultural Festival, there’s a good chance you’ve been glued to a television witnessing another historic milestone: c t was the Sunday when man first walked on the moon. When Walter Cronkite mentioned the concert on the CBS Evening News, this was probably the last time the event was discussed in public. The footage has sat in a basement for 50 years, apparently waiting for Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson to come and occasionally give its correct historical context and significance. Summer of the soul is more than a simple assembly of nostalgia; it is a period document.
A camera slate with “Black Woodstock Doc” written on it opens the film. The free event, held 100 miles from Max Yasgur’s farm, drew 300,000 customers over six consecutive weekends, each bursting with talent. Of course, as the sounds of war could be heard in Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Woodstock of the “Star Spangled Banner,” the Harlem Culture Festival took on its own outcry of protest. Festival goer Darry Lewis was 19 in 1969. He knew that the potential for violence increased with the temperature and that the summer in question was scorching hot. It was a time in American history, much like today, when a divided black community rightly lost faith in both elected officials and the police. One faction agreed with Andrew Young’s nonviolent approach to healing, another nodded when Kwame Ture downplayed the need for black people “to go to Vietnam and shoot someone. who, according to the honky, is your enemy “. With tensions at a boiling point, Lewis suggests that the purpose of the festival may have been to avoid a repeat of the King riots.
According to the ubiquitous Reverend Al Sharpton, “1969 was the pivotal year in which the black man died and the black man was born. ” The New York Times‘Charlayne Hunter-Gault was the first reporter to use “Black” instead of “Negro” in a story. Festival organizer Tony Lawrence was a salon singer, promoter, and con artist in the best sense of the word. According to a former assistant, “Tony talked about a big game and he delivered.” Seeking to turn the festival into a TV show, sponsor General Foods hired Hal Tulchin as director and producer. The “Lighting Cameraperson” credit should have gone to God. Without a penny in the budget to rent a single candle, Tulchin suggested the west-facing scene to best maximize the afternoon sun.
Against the backdrop of a giant mosaic, the lineup included heavyweights such as Sly and the Family Stone, Edwin Hawkins, Pops Staples and the Staple Singers, BB King, Gladys Knight and the synchronized saltations of his Pips and Mongo Santamaria. A David Ruffin without temptations entered the “whistle lineup” with his four-octave solo rendition of “My Girl”, while gospel giants Professor Herman Stevens and Voices of Faith and Clara Walker demonstrated. a master’s degree in the genre of music service. Sharpton called it “black therapy.” Nina Simone took the stage like an African princess, using her voice to grab each member of the audience by the collar. The “shameless black” power couple – octopus-armed drummer Max Roach and first and most unrecognized African American in song, Abbey Lincoln – shouldn’t need any introduction. And as if that wasn’t enough, there was Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples indulging in a chant that will knock you out of your seat.
It wasn’t just music. Jackie “Mom” Mabley did a set, but the second biggest talking point was the moon landing. Some participants called the moon landing a “waste of time” and argued that the money would have been better spent to cure the world of poverty. Perhaps the greatest pinch of nostalgia has been sounded by The Fifth Dimension. Two-fifths of the group, Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo, were on hand to remember. The group has been criticized by many for not being “black enough” – the Creamsicle orange fringed vests and Eduardian sun-yellow puffed sleeves haven’t helped their case. Everyone thought they were white until they saw a picture of 5 black people singing “Up, Up and Away” in a hot air balloon.
With the expectation of a proper assemblage of janky concert footage to be quickly put to rest, it was just a matter of sitting down and allowing this long-lost cultural event to fill the blank pages of history. Playing in a theater near you. ★★★
Video on demand and summary of new versions
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