A 'Summer of Soul' Companion Reading List

By Carrie McBride, Communications
July 7, 2021
movie poster for Summer of Soul

The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, a six-week series of weekend concerts, made a huge impression on those who attended and participated but was largely lost to history. Overshadowed by Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival, Altamont, and other well-documented and celebrated music festivals of the 1960s, performance footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival sat unviewed for over forty years in the basement of cameraman Hal Tulchin.

In his directorial debut, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's Summer of Soul (...Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), now in theaters and streaming on Hulu, restores this historical event to our national memory. With pop, jazz, blues, and gospel performances by legends like Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, and more, the festival brought the community together in a celebration of music and Blackness against a backdrop of racial tensions, lingering grief over the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. the year before, and ongoing political and social activism.  

The books below make great companion reads for the film if you're inspired to learn more about the musicians who performed at the festival, this era of music and its intersection with activism, and Harlem's cultural importance. 

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.