Summer of Soul has won a great many awards since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in February 2021 (where it won the grand jury prize for documentaries). But the Peabody Award is special, and Questlove, who directed the film, seemed touched by the honor in his video acceptance. The virtual presentation was released Thursday (June 9).
“It was an honor to do this film and it’s an honor to receive this accolade, and not just for my ego or for my personal achievement, but it was an honor to serve history,” he said. “This was a film that took 50 years to sort of get the snag off so it could fly, and I think it’s right on time, and on behalf of the Searchlight team, the Onyx [Collective] team, the Hulu team, [the film’s producers] Robert [Fyvolent], David [Dinerstein] and Joseph [Patel], everyone involved with this film, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. [And as for] all the artists that performed, thank you for honoring them and honoring their history.”
Alicia Keys, who was born and raised in Harlem, not far from where the Harlem Cultural Festival took place in the summer of 1969, presented the award. Keys wasn’t born yet when the festival was held – she arrived in 1981 – but the story of this festival that should have been virtually as famous as Woodstock but was nearly lost to history, is compelling. And first-time director Questlove told it well in documentary that weaves together interviews with attendees and cultural commentators with priceless concert footage.
“I could just imagine as I was watching it, all my favorite artists – Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and so many others…in this beautiful summer of 1969 that you captured in your film,” Keys said. “It just blew my mind. It blew all of our minds and it opened us up and it introduced us to the greatness, the power, the strength, the fashion, the flavor, the songs…the spirit of this summer of soul and our culture and the energy…So, thank you for bringing to the light such a powerful moment in music and in history and our Black excellence.”
The artists who appeared at the Harlem Cultural Festival included many of the finest R&B, pop and jazz musicians of their time. A partial cast list (in addition to the three artists Keys named) includes The Chambers Brothers, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension, David Ruffin, The Edwin Hawkins Singers, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Herbie Mann, Sly & the Family Stone, and Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach.
The film, cleverly subtitled, (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), has won a staggering number of awards from such organizations as the National Board of Review (documentary film), the British Academy Film Awards (best documentary), the Producers Guild of America (outstanding producer of documentary motion pictures), the Academy Awards (best documentary feature), and the Grammys (best music film).
This is Questlove’s second Peabody Award. He won his first as a cast member and composer on Inside Amy Schumer. The multi-hyphenate couldn’t resist bragging just a bit in his acceptance remarks. “I can’t wait to put that Peabody right next to my first Peabody right there — a two-timer!”