Remembering Harlem's 'Black Woodstock'

Around the same time that hippies were enjoying their "three days of peace and love" at Yasgur's Farm in Bethel, N.Y., there was another huge music festival staged south of Woodstock — in Harlem. What's become known as "Black Woodstock" was a concert series that featured B.B. King, The Staples Singers, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone and an estimated 100,000 concert-goers.

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(Soundbite of song "Going Up the Country")

CANNED HEAT: (Singing) I'm going up the country, baby, don't you wanna go?

GUY RAZ, host:

In the summer of 1969, hundreds of thousands of young people gathered to celebrate music and revolution. And if you're thinking Woodstock…

(Soundbite of a scratching record)

RAZ: …think again.

(Soundbite of song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black")

Ms. NINA SIMONE (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) To be young, gifted and Black, oh, what a…

RAZ: The gathering I'm talking about was the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of six free concerts held at the northern end of Central Park that summer; a celebration of youth, culture, and black power that some have called the Black Woodstock.

One of the star performers was the iconic singer Nina Simone.

(Soundbite of drums)

Ms. SIMONE: Are you ready, black people? Are you ready? Are you ready, black man, black youth, black woman, black everybody? Are you really, really, really ready?

(Soundbite of cheering)

RAZ: The New York Police Department refused to provide security for the concerts, so the Black Panthers did.

The biggest stars of the black music world would play that summer: B.B. King, Max Roach, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight, and…

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen…

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified Man: …the internationally known Sly and the Family Stone.

(Soundbite of cheering)

RAZ: Sly Stone and his band managed to play both the Harlem Festival and Woodstock that summer. Here's a clip from their appearance in Harlem.

(Soundbite of song "Everyday People")

Mr. SLY STONE (Singer): (Singing) I am everyday people…

RAZ: There are about 50 hours of footage from the festival. The man who filmed it, Hal Tulchin, has said, at the time, there was no interest in turning that footage into a documentary, so most of it has just been collecting dust. The only parts that have been released commercially are Nina Simone's performances, including this clip.

(Soundbite of song "Revolution")

Ms. SIMONE: (Singing) Hey, we're in the middle of a revolution because I see the face of things to come. Yes, I do.

RAZ: Nina Simone from her August 17, 1969 performance at the Black Woodstock, better known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. Forty years ago this summer, hundreds of thousands of young people turned out to witness those concerts.

(Soundbite of song "Revolution")

Ms. SIMONE: (Singing) I'm here to tell you about destruction of all the evil, it will have to end.

RAZ: Coming up, the other Woodstock. The one that took place on Max Yasgur's Farm in Bethel, New York. A new film tells the story of how it all came together, and it stars comedian Demetri Martin.

Mr. DEMETRI MARTIN (Comedian/Actor): What was interesting about this project was you think about specific small stories, little pieces of that very large cultural phenomenon.

RAZ: Demetri Martin on Woodstock, comedy and his brief stint as a White House intern. That's next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Ms. SIMONE: (Singing) I know…

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