Questlove’s feel-good hit film ‘Summer of Soul’ inspires new music festival in Harlem

Nina Simone performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969.
Nina Simone, seen performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, was featured in the documentary “Summer of Soul.”
(Searchlight Pictures)

The Harlem Cultural Festival has come full circle thanks to Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s award-winning documentary, “Summer of Soul.”

Announced Wednesday, the music event, newly rebranded as the Harlem Festival of Culture, is coming back to the New York City neighborhood in 2023. The reworked outdoor event is slated to return to its roots at Marcus Garvey Park, the site of the original festival, according to Billboard.

The news comes following the continued success of “Summer of Soul,” the Oscar- and Grammy-winning documentary directed by Questlove, about the 1969 iteration of the festival.


The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson on “Summer of Soul” and what’s next in his varied career

Feb. 14, 2022

In back-to-back weeks this year, the film won an Oscar for documentary feature and a Grammy for best music film. Questlove’s moving acceptance speech for the former was overshadowed by the chaos surrounding Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.

Helming this new festival rendition are co-chairs Musa Jackson, Nikoa Evans and Yvonne McNair. Jackson, editor in chief at Ambassador Digital Magazine, attended the 1969 festival and also appeared in the documentary.

“We want to authentically encapsulate the full scope: the energy, the music, the culture,” Jackson said in a statement that accompanied the announcement. “We want people to understand that this festival is being built by the people who are from, live and work in this community.”

Musician Ahmir Thompson immersed himself in 40 hours of footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival — a.k.a. ‘Black Woodstock’ — to curate the Oscar-nominated ‘Summer of Soul’ documentary.

March 1, 2022

The almost-forgotten festival is often referred to as the Black Woodstock because of its abundant celebration of African American culture through music and community activism. In 1969, roughly 300,000 people attended over the course of six concerts, according to Rolling Stone, which featured artists such as Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson and many others.

The revived festival’s main event reportedly won’t debut until next summer but will be preceded by a variety of live performances, open mic nights and film screenings.

In addition to the festival, the three founders revealed a companion nonprofit foundation program meant to provide opportunities for Harlem’s youth.


“Summer of Soul” is available to stream on Hulu.