Black Woodstock

You’re never too old to learn. Especially when you start from a base of ignorance.

I didn’t learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre until 2019, when it came to HBO in “Watchmen.”

And I didn’t hear about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival until 2021, when Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson carved a mountain of forgotten concert imagery into a Black Mount Rushmore, creating the documentary “Summer of Soul” for Hulu.

The Tulsa massacre was buried with its victims for reasons that should be all too obvious. And the Harlem Cultural Festival was strangled by the largely white Woodstock — until Thompson brought the late Hal Tulchin’s long-buried footage back to life.

In an interview with The New York Times, Thompson said:

For nearly 50 years, this just sat in a basement and no one cared. … History saw it fit that every last person that was on that [Woodstock] stage now winds up defining a generation. Why isn’t this held in the same light? Why was it that easy to dispose of us? Instead, the cultural zeitgeist that actually ended up being our guide as Black people was “Soul Train.”

We watched “Summer of Soul” last night, and man, what a blast from the past it was. So many cuts from the pivotal days of this whiteboy’s personal soundtrack.

David Ruffin, fresh from an acrimonious split with The Temptations. A young Gladys Knight and the Pips, very much on their way up. Sly & the Family Stone. B.B. King. Hugh Masakela. Stevie Wonder. The 5th Dimension. The Edwin Hawkins SIngers. And artists whose work I didn’t come to appreciate until later, like Max Roach, The Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, and Nina Simone.

All of them on stage in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park, playing for a largely Black audience of 50,000 people at a pop, guesstimated at 300,000 over six shows. Admission: Free.

And to think all that sound and glory wound up in a basement tomb, waiting for someone to roll away the stone.

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17 Responses to “Black Woodstock”

  1. SAO' Says:

    Interest times for archive diving. Only caught one episode of the Apple TV+ 1971 series, looks promising. And that documentary about Harry Belafonte’s Tonight Show guest host stint (The Sit-In) was well done.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      O, lawd, waddn’t 1971 bad enough the first time around? I graduated high school, started college, and took a three-year shit in my life.

      Give the chance for a redo I’d probably make the same stupid mistakes all over again, but still, damn.

  2. Charley Says:

    A weird good time in America! Made 2 business trips to Berkekly.

  3. Shawn Says:

    Isn’t history written by those in control? I believe that fake media, that which benefits the group in control of the media, has existed as long as information has been told. With the improvement in curtailing the power of media communication to a smaller group, we have been able to read, hear and see information that would in the past been hidden from us. It is wonderful now that we are able to hear these other stories. To realize that our lily white male asses weren’t the only asses capable of accomplishing great things. We need to make sure though, that the doorways, tunnels, methods, etc. of information transfer continue. A part of maintaining our freedom is to make sure that these continue to exist so that an oligarchical fake media isn’t able to take over.

    As for the Pips, years ago (1975-76) when I was a kid up in Valdez, Alaska, I had the pleasure of taking one of the Pips out on a ride on my snowmachine (snowmobile in lower 48’ish). We weren’t headed to Georgia but I suspect we might have went as fast as a midnight train a couple of times. How many people do you suppose can say that? (Insert image of ego and puffed out chest here).

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      As A.J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” One good thing about the Innertubes is that they made having a “press” a little more affordable.

      Remember the short-lived “The Richard Pryor Show?” One of its best bits was a performance by “… and the Pips.”

      I never got to give a Pip a ride, but I did share a car with Dick Gregory once.

  4. redrockmtb Says:

    it is on my list.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It’s not only a musical trip down memory lane, it’s a fashion retrospective as well. Holy hell, I bet Sly’s drummer would like to buy back that footage of him wearing whatever the hell that was. Thank Cthulhu no photos of me survive from 1969.

  5. Pat O’Brien Says:

    It was considered black music, not just music. Sometimes music has to wait for a generation to be appreciated. I wonder how many great Black musicians have died poor or forgotten? We watched “20 Feet From Stardom” a few weeks ago, and it too was an eye opener.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Music is a tough hustle. Anything in the arts is. You have to use a staple gun to keep your pants up because everybody is trying to pull ’em down and grab a piece of you.

      “20 Feet” looks interesting. We’ll have to add that one to the list.

    • carl duellman Says:

      that was a good movie. funny how some people make it and some don’t.

    • carl duellman Says:

      there was a show we watched several years ago, i can’t remember the name, but it had all the top stars of the time, late 60s i believe. the two big names were the stones and james brown. james brown was on first and he put on a great show with lots of slick moves and stage presence. the stones followed and you could see mick trying to imitate james brown’s moves. it was pretty funny.

  6. khal spencer Says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. Will have to watch this.

  7. B Lester Says:

    I want to go see this in a theater to get the maximum effect, but Ms. L won’t set foot in one. The pandemic is still on.

    Does Sly and the Fam play “Dance to the Music”? I’d stand in line a long time just to see that number.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      “Everyday People” was the big number. It highlighted the diversity in the group — men, women, black, white. I’d forgotten that Mary McCreary was in the band. I saw her years later with Leon Russell at Folsom Field in Boulder.

  8. B Lester Says:

    In a similar vein, there’s this. I like the term “coercive patriotism”. I’ve been at a high school sporting events and wondered what would happen if I took a knee at the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. I’m too chicken to try.

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