The ’69 Festival That Brought Over 300,000 People Together

By Kanyi M

The summer of ’69 was a wild one. Festivals appealing to the youth of the era were organized in cities across America. A new era of change and progress was taking place, with blacks taking hold of the power to do what they wanted. Here is a glimpse into what took place during this period when Monterey, Newport, and Detroit blacks showed they were the kings of the world.

Image courtesy of LiveForLiveMusi

The “Summer of Soul” was in full swing in June of ’69 when over 300,000 people turned out for the Harlem Cultural Festival at Mount Morris Park. With Tony Lawrence, the noted blues guitarist and popular TV star in attendance, it was a pretty memorable event. The show featured 30 bands and 40 singers who performed in front of enthusiastic fans. The festival also attracted some big-name stars, such as Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Chuck Jackson, and Okey Singleton.

The Line-Up

The Mount Morris Park festival was the summer’s first major musical event, and it was a very strong line-up. The festival included such notable performers as Roberta Flack & the Blue Lights, the Sensational Nightingales, Mary K. Wells, Leroy Hutson, Earth Wind & Fire, and Gladys Knight & The Pips.

Image courtesy of Sundance Institute/YouTube/Nerdist

The audience got a taste of strong Gospel music as the Mahalia Jackson choir sang several of her classics. Led by Ms. Jackson, the audience was introduced to some of the most impressive Gospel acts that had ever graced the stage. The Gospel pioneers, Mahalia Jackson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe were on hand to sing their sorrowful hymns while some of today’s best secular singers gave their soulful renditions on the big night at Mount Morris Park. Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” brought tears to the eyes of many of the attendees who had come to see one of America’s greatest Soul legends.