Oscar-Winning ‘Summer of Soul’ Sparks New Annual Harlem Festival of Culture

While Summer of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) won the Oscar for best documentary feature and Grammy for best music film a few weeks ago, its inspirational, 50-plus-year journey to theater screens continues to reverberate. Being announced today (April 13) is the launch of the Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC), a reimagining of 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival — the setting for the award-winning concert film directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

The team behind HFC includes founders Musa Jackson, Nikoa Evans and Yvonne McNair. Harlem native Jackson, editor-in-chief of Ambassador Digital Magazine, attended the original festival as a child and also appears in Summer of Soul.

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In a statement accompanying the announcement, Summer of Soul executive producer Joseph Patel commented, “One of the things we hoped would happen with Summer of Soul is that it would open the door for other stories to be told, in all their forms, especially by people from Harlem. I couldn’t think of a better person to charge through than Musa, whose devoted roots in the community make him the perfect person to represent for Harlem.”

Noted Jackson, “Being rooted, watered, and grown in this village of Harlem, I believe HFC is our moment to show the world the vibrancy of today’s Harlem — the music, the food, the look, all of it! The original event was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I will never forget. With this initiative, we want to create something that evokes that same sense of pride in our community that I felt on that special day in 1969. We want to authentically encapsulate the full scope: the energy, the music, the culture. We want people to understand that this festival is being built by the people who are from, live and work in this community.”

In summer 2023, HFC will pay tribute to the original fest held at Harlem’s Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) by presenting its inaugural multi-day outdoor music festival at the same locale. During the run-up to that occasion, HFC is kicking off a yearlong series of events beginning on April 15 with A Harlem Jones open mic night at the Museum of the City of New York in tribute to the 25th anniversary of the cult classic film Love Jones. The month of May will mark HFC’s first live music performance at Marcus Garvey Park, with details to be announced.

Additional indoor and outdoor live music performances are also being planned throughout the year, featuring legacy and contemporary artists from R&B, soul, hip-hop, gospel, jazz, reggae and Latin. Rounding out the offerings will be various community events, moderated discussions (including the launch of HFC’s Cultural Conversation Series with Eliminating the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Black Community in May, Mental Health Awareness Month) and film screenings held at live music and dining venues throughout Harlem and neighboring communities.

HFC co-founder McNair, an Emmy-nominated event producer and president of Captivate Marketing Group, comments, “As a live event producer with over 20 years’ experience, to be able to bring live music and live events to Harlem — the community I have called home for the last 11 years — on such a large scale and in a way that pays tribute to what this community represents and its rich history — is a dream realized. Through HFC, we intend to remind people that Harlem is the mecca of Black culture for a reason. With so much going on in the country, particularly surrounding the Black experience in America, we felt it was only right to present something new that will carry forth the spirit of what the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 represented, which was the resiliency, artistic brilliance and overall cultural contributions of African Americans to American culture.”

The three founders have also established the Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC) Foundation. The nonprofit organization will provide mentoring, apprenticeship opportunities and curriculum to high school students to further foster Harlem’s next generation of leaders in music, media, art, fashion, science, technology and entertainment.

Adds Evans, business and economic development strategist for BNP Advisory Group, “For over 22 years, I have been committed to preserving Harlem’s cultural legacy as a community developer in Harlem while building a thriving economic ecosystem for its small business community. Harlem Festival of Culture offers an exciting opportunity to be part of something that furthers that mission by harnessing the power of collaboration with Harlem’s civic, community, cultural and business leadership to achieve the social and economic impact the historic 1969 festival was unable to realize 50 years ago.”

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