“Summer of Soul” Director Questlove Discusses Importance of New Doc and More

With All Deliberate Speed was a phrase once used by the Supreme Court to describe the manner states were to end segregation in the landmark civil rights case “Brown vs. Board of Education.”   

However, as history marches forward and more truths are revealed, it seems as though that adage could also be used to describe how Black cultural commodities have long been treated as disposable by the greater American society at large—and ephemeral by the children of those who create it. 

On July 2nd, Hulu, and first-time director Questlove aka Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, present a film that is part documentary, part history lesson in the purposely obscured footage of one of the biggest music events in the history of New York City, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.  

Featuring Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, the 5th Dimension, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson and a host of music immortals that are themselves lost to time, Harlem Cultural Festival’s stated goal was to celebrate Black music and culture while promoting Black Pride.  

 

Summer of Soul covers the historic six-week span that took place at Marcus Garvey Park, then Mt. Morris Park, in Harlem. 

Recently, the Shadow League was in the proverbial building for an exclusive screening and red-carpet affair at the Garvey Park.  

We had the chance to speak with the legendary Marilyn McCoo and longtime husband Bobby Davis, as well as attendee singer/actor Vanessa Williams, as well as the man of the hour Questlove himself. 

“I said ‘You mean there was footage on that?” said the radiant singer Marilyn McCoo, a key ingredient in the 5th Dimensions, when asked how she became aware of “Summer of Soul”.  

“He said ‘Yeah, would you like to see it?’ He asked did I remember it, and I said how I remember being backstage in the dressing room being nervous because we were getting ready to perform for this great big audience in Harlem.”  

“We knew they knew who the 5th Dimension was, but we didn’t know if they would like us or not because so many radio stations weren’t playing our music. They said we were the black group with the white sound. I said how do you color music?” 

“I’m basically here to see Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis. They are the soundtrack to my life. Driving in the Econoline van that we had, growing up and going on camping trips. My Dad popping in the 8-track. Seeing them on the variety TV shows and seeing them as the 5th Dimension. I am a huge fan. 

“Quest just keeps killing,” said Williams, showering praise on Quest. “He just keeps growing and getting better and better.” 

Vanessa Williams was a very unsuspected and welcome surprise on the red carpet because she did not appear on the call sheet. She was as elegant and intelligent as ever in navigating the press. 

“It is wonderful to see legends talk about the reality of their lives and what music meant to them, and what it means to us. It is everlasting. That is what music has the capability of doing,” she told The Shadow League.

 

 

The Shadow League: What was the thread that led you to this gem because every gem has a journey.

Questlove: I guess it was my reputation as a music expert,” said Questlove. “Everyone wants to think that they’re a music expert. I had never heard of the Harlem Cultural Festival when they first approached me about it even though I had seen the festival, I just didn’t know what I was watching.  

“We live in a world where there’s this awesome footage of Stevie Wonder in his prime and no one has ever seen if before in their life!”

 “What makes It even sadder? There are about six more projects that I have been contacted about within the last seven months that are on this level.”

The Shadow League: Mind-blowing? 

QL: “Exactly! But this is not the only thing that has been left to rot. Who knows, if we can revive this, maybe there’s some other things that we’ll be able to bring out soon. 

“Summer of Soul” is currently in theaters and on Hulu. It is more than just a documentary, it is a reclamation of the lost, a reminder of what binds us and a beacon to the future of Black America.