In our series My Monday Morning, self-motivated people tell WSJ. how they start off the week.
This month, Ahmir Thompson, better known as the DJ and producer Questlove, made his directorial debut with the documentary Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). The movie tells the history of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a music festival that took place over six Sundays at Marcus Garvey Park (then Mount Morris Park) in 1969. The series featured artists such as Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson and eventually drew the moniker “Black Woodstock,” as it took place the same summer as the countercultural festival in upstate New York. While Woodstock was quickly memorialized in a documentary of the same name, footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival has rarely been seen until now.
In 2017, two producers approached Questlove with more than 40 hours of footage from the festival; he edited it into the backbone of the just-under-two-hour-long documentary with editor Joshua L. Pearson. Questlove also interviewed a number of the people behind the festival, from the artists to the producers to audience members. The documentary was acquired by Hulu, Onyx Collective and Searchlight Pictures at Sundance Film Festival this year.
Wonder, who was 19 when he appeared at the festival, is one of the documentary’s standout performers. “He’s a water well, an unstoppable spigot of information and love,” says Questlove of interviewing Wonder. In 1969, “[Wonder] was in such a transformative moment in his career, where he’s about to leave Little Stevie Wonder–land and turn into genius Stevie Wonder.”
Questlove is also a musician, the drummer and, along with rapper Black Thought, co-founder of the Roots, who have been playing as the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon since 2014. He’s produced records for artists including Elvis Costello, Jay-Z and Amy Winehouse. And he’s the author of six books, including a cookbook, as well as Music is History, on the last half-century of American music, which is coming out this fall. Here, he talks to WSJ. about why he drinks all of his meals lately and how he’s learning to be nicer to himself.
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