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The Harlem Cultural Festival

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The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was the backdrop for Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson‘s Oscar-winning documentary, Summer of Soul, and a reimagining of the original format was announced this week. Titled the Harlem Festival of Culture, the annual event will kick off in 2023.

The Harlem Cultural Festival began in 1967 as a series of music concerts held in the famed New York borough and in 1969 the event, also known as “Black Woodstock,” would emerge as the most notable of these events. The 1969 concert was the focus of Thompson’s documentary and the film displayed the wide scope of musicianship and artistry that was the hallmark of the times.

On April 13, organizers of the Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC) made the official announcement that the festival will be the first of a yearly event replete with live entertainment, programming to address economic and social development, and more across a number of days.

Musa Jackson, Editor-In-Chief, Ambassador Digital Magazine, was featured in Summer Of Soul, then just five years of age. Jackson is one of the executive producers for the upcoming HFC with Nikoa Evans and Yvonne McNair.

HFC shared plans for events leading up to next year’s festival which includes “A Harlem Jones” Open Mic Night held this coming Friday (April 15) at the Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the romantic drama, Love Jones.

In May, HFC will host its first live performance at Marcus Garvey Park, the original site of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival with details forthcoming. In the same month, HFC will launch its Cultural Conversation Series with Eliminating the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Black Community.

“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!” said Jackson in a statement. “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.”

“For me, as a live event producer with over 20 years [of] experience and having worked on some of the top festivals in the world, 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 to its rich history is a dream realized. Harlem has always been synonymous with Black culture and, through HFC, we intend to remind people that Harlem is the mecca of Black Culture,” added McNair. “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 this country.”

“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 Harlem’s small business community,” Evans offered. “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.”

To learn more about the HFC, please click here.

Photo: HFC