I finally sat down and watched the documentary “Summer of Soul” directed by Amir “Questlove” Thompson. This beautiful film is part love letter to New York City, part love letter to Black people, part uplift of music and musicians who are still here with us and those who have passed on, and obviously a highlight of the fashion and creativity by the musicians and concert goers alike.
Thompson chose to focus on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and bring to light long lost footage of such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many others. This documentary is truly something folks at every age in the family can enjoy. The 40 hours of concert footage sat in a basement for 50 years and Thompson and his partners edited this treasure trove beautifully for us to enjoy.
Many of you know Questlove from his incredibly nuanced drumming skills and as a founder of the legendary Philadelphia hip hop group The Roots. Some may know him (and The Roots) as the in-house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” a job they’ve held since 2014. And others of you may know him from his books, my favorite being “Something To Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs” (Clarkson Potter Books, 2016).
My only request after watching the documentary was this: I wish Thompson would create a website for Black people of a particular age to upload photos of themselves from the 1960s and 1970s. When I watched the documentary with a friend’s mother and aunt, they immediately went to their phones and dug up pictures of themselves when they were younger wearing mini skirts and afros, smiling in the face of adversity, and thriving during some of the most tumultuous political moments in modern American history.
How great would it be if Black people from around the world could share their photos and create a living memorial to the time period, the culture, and actual individuals who have stories to share? There are so many additional stories we need to hear from our elders before it is too late. I often write in this column about the need to talk to our elders about their younger selves. I think Thompson has provided a perfect entree for us to do so through his poignant documentary which was filled with so much joy, dignity, and respect.
So, hopefully Questlove is an avid reader of the Amsterdam News and happens to read this column, I hope he and his producers create a website to keep the conversation (and the party) going. And if you have yet to experience “Summer of Soul,” I strongly encourage you to check it out on Hulu or whatever streaming device you use.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.