Ahmir Thompson, who goes by the better-known moniker Questlove, will be directing a feature documentary, “Black Woodstock,” about the Harlem Cultural Festival that took place in 1969, Variety reports.
The Harlem Cultural Festival, dubbed “Black Woodstock” by its attendees, took place in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park the same summer as the famous Woodstock festival, but with a fraction of the mainstream media coverage. It featured performances from the most iconic Black musicians of the day, including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, the 5th Dimension, David Ruffin, the Staple Singers and Gladys Knight and the Pips. With the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shaking the country just a year before, the Harlem Cultural Festival was aimed at celebrating Black culture, politics and community.
The Harlem Cultural Festival was the place Nina Simone famously recited a poem that asked her audience: “Are you ready to do what is necessary? Are you ready to kill, if necessary? Are you ready to smash white things, to burn buildings, are you ready? Are you ready to build black things?”
Jimi Hendrix, who delivered a fiery performance at Woodstock, was one of just a few Black musicians who played at the festival, which has gone down in history as a defining American cultural moment, while the Harlem Cultural Festival was relegated to relative obscurity. There were more than 300,000 people at the Harlem Cultural Festival, meaning it was nearly as popular as Woodstock, which had 400,000. Videographer Hal Tulchin, who died in 2017, captured 40 hours of footage that has remained largely unseen by the public. Questlove’s documentary will feature these videos.
“The performances are extraordinary,” he said in a statement to Variety. “I was stunned when I saw the lost footage for the first time. It’s incredible to look at 50 years of history that’s never been told, and I’m eager and humbled to tell that story.”
Questlove, known first the drummer of the hip-hop group The Roots, wears many hats. “Black Woodstock” will be his directorial debut, but aside from being a drummer, he is a producer, DJ, chef, author and the musical director for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” He also served as the musical director for artists like Jay-Z.
David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent will produce the film with RadicalMedia as a creative and production partner. Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick, Concordia Studio, Play/Action Pictures and Beth Hubbard will serve as executive producers. Joseph Patel will serve as a producer, Joshua L. Pearson will be the editor and Randall Poster will be the music supervisor. Pearson and RadicalMedia also worked on the 2015 film, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” about Simone’s life and legacy.