Where were you on July 20, 1969? Unless you were among the thousands fortunate enough to have been in Mount Morris Park for the opening of the Harlem Cultural Festival, chances are you were glued to a television set witnessing another historical milestone: that was the Sunday on which man first walked on the moon. When Walter Cronkite mentioned the concert on the CBS Evening News, it was probably the last time the event was discussed in public. The footage sat in a basement for 50 years, apparently waiting for Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson to come along and give the occasion its correct historical context and importance. Set against a giant mosaic backdrop, the lineup boasted such heavyweights as Sly and the Family Stone, Edwin Hawkins, Pops Staples and the Staple Singers, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the synchronized saltations of her Pips, and Mongo Santamaria. A Temptations-free David Ruffin entered the “whistle range” with his four-octaves solo rendition of “My Girl,” while gospel giants Prof. Herman Stevens and the Voices of Faith and Clara Walker displayed a mastery in serving up the kind of music Sharpton referred to as “black people’s therapy.” Nina Simone took to the stage like an African Princess, using her voice to grab each member of the audience by their collars. The “unapologetically black” power couple — octopus-armed drummer Max Roach and the first, and most underlooked African-American Lady of Song, Abbey Lincoln — should need no introduction. And as if that were not enough, there was Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples engaging in a sing-off that will knock you out of your seat. Summer of Soul is more than just an assemblage of nostalgia; it’s a document of the times. (2021) — Scott Marks
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