1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

later known as the “Black Woodstock”
Mount Morris Park, NYC
1969 festival #14

Forty-two 1969 Festivals +1

June 29 – August 24, 1969: consisted of six free Sunday afternoon concerts held between June 29 and August 24. The  total attendance was some 300,000 people.

Held in Harlem at Mount Morris (now Marcus Garvey) Park, it was a self-consciously urban affair, a concert series rather than a one-off, and already in its third year. The New York City Parks Department and Maxwell House co-sponsored the series.

The festival was hosted and promoted by Tony Lawrence, a New York night club singer. [NYT article]

Line-up

June 29:

  • Abbey Lincoln
  • Edwin Hawkins Singer
  • George Kerby
  • Olatunji
  • Max Roach
  • Sly & the Family Stone
July 13:

  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Staple Singers
  • Herman Stevens & The Voices of Faith
  • Reverend Jesse Jackson & the Operation Breadbasket Band
July 20:

  • Stevie Wonder
  • David Ruffin
  • Chuck Jackson
  • Gladys Knight & the Pips
  • Lou Parks Dancers
July 27:

  • Mongo Santamaria
  • Ray Barretto
  • Cal Tjader
  • Herbie Mann
  • Harlem Festival Calypso Band
August 17:

  • Nina Simone
  • BB King
  • Hugh Masakela
  • Harlem Festival Jazz Band
August 24:

  • La Rocque Bey & Co.
  • Listen My Brothers & Co
1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

Televised

New York’s affiliate television station WNEW Metromedia Channel 5 (now FOX) broadcast hour-long specials of the footage on Saturday evenings at 10:30 PM in June–August 1969.

Ignored

In October of ’69, writer Raymond Robinson took to the pages of the New York Amsterdam News. He said that the world would lionize Woodstock, and forget about Harlem. “The only time the white press concerns itself with the black community is during a riot or major disturbance,” he wrote of the shows, which had taken place during an eight-week period without a single report of violence.

Summer of Soul” 

Producer Hal Tulchin filmed the full concert series,  but studios turned down his offers to sell the footage. The reels sat in Tulchin’s basement for a half century until his death in 2017, when producers David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent obtained the never-before-seen footage. They brought it to The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who made his directorial debut with  “Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) in 2021. The movie premiered on January 28, 2021 at the virtual Sundance Film Festival.

From a USA Today article, Questlove said at a post-screening  Q & A: “I instantly kind of scoffed. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I know everything that happened in music history. There’s no way you’re going to tell me this gathering happened and no one knew about it.’ But sure enough, that was the case. Once they showed me raw footage, I just sat there with my jaw dropped, like, ‘How has this been forgotten?'”

Questlove won the Grand Jury prize and the Audience prize in the nonfiction category of the festival.

1969 Harlem Cultural Festival
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