Filmmakers dig up Harlem Festival

Published: 2006-03-07
While rockers, peaceniks, and hippies were busy grooving at Woodstock, those more interested in funk, soul, R&B, and blues were probably digging the Harlem Music Festival in 1969.

Though all but forgotten, the Harlem Music Festival - held at New York's Central Park - boasted performances by Sly & the Family Stone, B.B. King, the Staples Singers, and Mahalia Jackson. Jesse Jackson hosted the performances, which were sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee. According to Billboard, "Security was provided by the Black Panthers, a job said to have been declined by New York City Police Department."

The festival was originally shot by producer and director Hal Tulchin, but no distributor was interested purchasing the footage after the fact. According to Billboard, Tulchin said, "Time and time again I was told candidly, 'There is no interest in putting on a black special.'"

37 years later the footage is finally being made into something by filmmakers Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon. Tentatively titled Harlem '69, they are hoping to have the film ready for next January's Sundance Film Festival.

Along with the original performances, the filmmakers plan to add some interviews with surviving participants to emphasize the festival's historical relevance.

Writer: Michelle Garcia



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