This month sees the release of Summer of Soul (…or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Questlove’s directorial debut.
The documentary focuses on six weeks during the summer of 1969 in which the Harlem Cultural Festival took place. This event saw thousands of people flock to Harlem in New York to celebrate black history, culture, music and fashion.
In the film, viewers are introduced to the event’s promoter and organiser, Tony Lawrence.
Who is Tony Lawrence?
Tony Lawrence is best-known as the MC and one of the organisers of the Harlem Cultural Festival. Lawrence was also a club singer, concert promoter, and raconteur.
He was originally from St Kitts but moved to Virginia in the US as a child. Lawrence later relocated to New York City.
He was reported to be in his thirties in 1967, meaning Tony Lawrence would have been born in the 1930s. That would make him currently in his late 80s.
Several years before the festival, Lawrence had been recruited by New York City’s parks department to help organise outdoor events in the neighbourhood.
Tony Lawrence and the Harlem Cultural Festival
Lawrence conceived the idea for the festival in 1967. He later convinced the New York City parks department to allow him to produce a series of summer concerts in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park (now known as Marcus Garvey Park).
Lawrence found a sponsor in Maxwell House coffee and had an advocate in John Lindsey, the then-mayor.
Questlove said of Lawrence: “This event was really a labour of love for [promoter] Tony Lawrence. There just weren’t festivals that catered to black people.”
Everyone from Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight & The Pips to Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson performed. The festival drew an audience of roughly 300,000 people.
How to watch Summer of Soul – streaming options and more
If you’re keen to watch Questlove’s Summer of Soul, which is receiving five-star reviews, there are plenty of ways to catch it this July.
The documentary is currently available in US and UK cinemas.
Summer of Soul will also simultaneously be released to Hulu the very day of its theatrical release. It is on the streaming platform and in cinemas from Friday, 2 July 2021.