Last summer, as some music lovers took tentative steps in getting back to concertgoing amid the early vaccinations against COVID-19, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson gifted audiences with an incredible display of live performance some 50 years in the past. Summer of Soul is The Roots drummer's debut documentary, concerning a little-seen arts festival in Harlem that took place before, during and after that year's Woodstock Music & Art Fair - with some of the greatest soul, blues and jazz performers of the late '60s gracing the stages. On January 28, 2022, Legacy Recordings will make a soundtrack to the acclaimed film available, featuring more than a dozen performances from those sets.
The Harlem Cultural Festival took place in the New York City neighborhood through six weekends in the summer of '69. Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The 5th Dimension and others all made appearances - nearly all of them at or near the peak of their critical and commercial influence. Questlove's documentary (which picked up honors at the Sundance Film Festival and the Critic's Choice Awards, is currently nominated for a Grammy and would not be a surprise to be seen at the Oscars next year) offers extraordinary insight into this breathtaking festival, occurring at a major flashpoint for American cultural history. (The concerts' mostly Black audiences held these performances in high esteem literally as events like Woodstock and the moon landing occurred simultaneously.) Through little-seen, meticulously-restored footage of the original performances and testimonials from the surviving performers, Quest has created what many have hailed as one of the greatest music documentaries ever - a powerful mix of historical context and information for present and future generations.
The Summer of Soul soundtrack album, available on CD and digital next month and on vinyl at a later date, will boast 16 performances from those sets, including Sly & The Family Stone, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, B.B. King and David Ruffin. (The digital version includes one extra track, a collaboration between jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln and drummer Max Roach.) Sly & The Family Stone's scintillating version of "Sing a Simple Song," recorded nearly two months before their acclaimed Woodstock set, is the first track you can hear from the album.
Legacy's press release, including a statement from Questlove that promises "musical manna that hopefully won't be the last serving," leaves open the possibility of more Summer of Soul releases - but for now, the first official album from these historic performances will be one of 2022's first exciting catalogue titles. Pre-order your copy and check out the full track list below.
* digital bonus track
- Uptown - The Chambers Brothers (a)
- Why I Sing the Blues - B.B. King (e)
- Don't Cha Hear Me Callin' to Ya - The 5th Dimension (a)
- Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures) - The 5th Dimension (a)
- My Girl - David Ruffin (c)
- Oh Happy Day - The Edwin Hawkins Singers (a)
- It's Been a Change - The Staple Singers (b)
- Precious Lord Take My Hand - The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra & Choir feat. Mahalia Jackson & Mavis Staples (b)
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine - Gladys Knight & The Pips (c)
- Watermelon Man - Mongo Santamaria (d)
- Together - Ray Barretto (d)
- Hold On, I'm Comin' - Herbie Mann (d)
- Sing a Simple Song - Sly & The Family Stone (a)
- Everyday People - Sly & The Family Stone (a)
- Africa - Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach (a) *
- Backlash Blues - Nina Simone (e)
- Are You Ready - Nina Simone (e)
All tracks recorded live at the Harlem Cultural Festival, Mount Morris Park, Harlem, NY on 6/29/1969 (a), 7/13/1969 (b), 7/20/1969 (c), 7/27/1969 (d) and 8/17/1969 (e)