When Questlove was enhancing his electrical Grammy-nominated documentary Summer time of Soul, which makes use of long-lost footage of music legends like Stevie Surprise, Sly Stone, and Mahalia Jackson to inform the forgotten story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Pageant, he wasn’t simply enthusiastic about the previous. He was enthusiastic about the best way that second, close to the peak of the sixties tumult of protests, riots, and assassinations, was “an actual mirror” of the summer time of George Floyd.
“Due to the place we have been politically,” the Roots drummer and first-time director says, he knew that the film would join with millennials and Gen Zers who may not know who Mavis Staples is, however have been “really dwelling by means of these instances.” The live performance, which befell over six weekends and was filmed by Hal Tulchin, who might by no means discover a purchaser for what he dubbed “the Black Woodstock,” served “as a bandaid over a bullet wound,” Questlove says—“a method to maintain individuals calm, give them some pleasure, and forestall them from rioting, as they did the yr earlier than.”
Summer time of Soul was adopted this fall by the discharge of Questlove’s newest ebook, Music Is Historical past, an exploration of the songs that outlined the previous half-century of American tradition. The 2 initiatives share the objective of explaining the generally forgotten significance of iconic artists, and collectively they present the famously educated musician embracing a task he lengthy resisted. He talked to GQ concerning the private transformation he went by means of throughout the pandemic, the preservation of Black tradition, and the making of Summer time of Soul.
GQ: Why did the forgotten legacy of the Harlem Cultural Pageant really feel like a narrative for 2021?
Questlove: One of many primary considerations I all the time had behind my thoughts was, how is that this going to resonate with millennials and Gen Z? And on the time, my solely connection was, I knew Drake is expounded to Larry Graham [the bassist for Sly and the Family Stone; Graham’s brother is Drake’s father], so perhaps I might attempt to make a connection there. Or do I get Beyoncé to attempt to clarify to Gen Z how necessary gospel singing is? That was the route I used to be going to go earlier than.
However due to the place we have been politically, the place we have been with the protests, the place we have been with the elections, the place we have been with simply understanding if we have been going to stay or die, as soon as I spotted that Gen Z and millennials have been really dwelling by means of these instances, that was all of the connection [I needed]. I didn’t need to get Drake to clarify his uncle. Gen Z and millennials have been dwelling by means of it.
Speak just a little bit extra about these connections. There was a serious second of protest final yr, and a serious second of protest occurring when this live performance occurred.
It wasn’t misplaced on me that that is an actual mirror. This live performance was placed on, I suppose you may say, as a bandaid over a bullet wound, a method to maintain individuals calm and provides them some pleasure. We by no means actually credit score what a day of pleasure can convey to someone. Actually, this live performance was thrown as a method to maintain individuals from rioting as they did the yr earlier than [in 1968]. We had conversations like, “Effectively, ought to we go to Black Lives Matter marches and file these as properly, combine them in?” That will’ve been pandering, and I really do have religion that individuals uncover issues on their very own with out you having to spell it out.