Rolling Stone


- D.F.

IN 1969, a series of free concerts took place in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park, featuring a who’s who of black music: B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Little Stevie Wonder. It was dubbed “the Black Woodstock,” and like the era-defining event at Max Yasgur’s farm, these shows were filmed for posterity. For almost 50 years, the reels sat in the cameraman’s basement. Enter Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Roots drummer and Tonight Show bandleader, ready to rescue this lost footage from obscurity.

If Summer of Soul were merely a labor of love from a superfan, it’d still be a first-rate concert film and a vital look at musicians in their prime. The performanc­es are extraordin­ary, from Simone turning “Backlash Blues” into the equivalent of a boxing match to Sly and the Family Stone proving that funk is both a noun and a verb. But what we have here goes beyond just assembling a greatest-hits collection. The movie is also a testament to the rich culture of Harlem in the era of black power and beauty, and at the end of a decade in which rights were gained and leaders lost. You get a portrait of a vibrant, nurturing community that used this music as a soundtrack for both struggle and celebratio­n. It’s a reclamatio­n in more ways than one.

And it’s damn close to being a masterpiec­e.

 ??  ?? King plays the
King plays the blues.

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