Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Congress is commemorating the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival


The summer of 1969...


NINA SIMONE: Are you ready to groove?

PFEIFFER: ...Was the summer of soul.


SIMONE: Are you ready to listen to all the beautiful Black voices, the beautiful Black feeling, the beautiful Black waves moving in beautiful air?


Nina Simone and a huge roster of musical legends performed that year at the Harlem Cultural Festival. Gladys Knight was there, too...


GLADYS KNIGHT: (Singing) You know that I heard it through the grapevine. Oh, I heard it through the grapevine not much longer would you be mine.

CHANG: ...And Stevie Wonder...


STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) It's your thing. Do what you want to do. Don't let me tell you...

CHANG: ...And the unforgettable Sly and the Family Stone.


SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) I am everyday people, yeah, yeah.

PFEIFFER: More than 50 years later, Congress has taken note of the festival's lasting legacy. This week, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution honoring it. And now the last weekend of June 2022 will commemorate the first weekend of the Harlem Cultural Festival.

CHANG: The festival took place over the course of six Sundays and has been widely regarded as a pivotal moment for Black music, culture and identity.

PFEIFFER: The resolution credits the 2021 documentary "Summer Of Soul" with rescuing and resuscitating the memory of the music festival for a global audience.

CHANG: Ahmir Thompson, widely known as Questlove, directed that documentary, which has since won an Oscar and a Grammy. He spoke to us in March about the significance of the festival and the importance of showing it to a wider audience.


AHMIR THOMPSON: Oftentimes, when we talk about civil rights, you only see our pain. You see the bloodshed. You see the dogs attacking us. You see us hosed down. You see us getting shot and in jail, mired in violence. But Black joy is such an important component to our story. And without that, we're not seen as human.

PFEIFFER: The Harlem Cultural Festival has now inspired a new event - next year's Harlem Festival of Culture. Organizers plan to hold the event in the same park as the original festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERBIE MANN'S "HOLD ON, I'M COMIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ayen Bior
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.