As the hippies and folkie-eccentrics made their way to Woodstock in 1969, there was another special event going down that year. The Harlem Cultural Festival which, among other things, welcomed Ms Nina Simone to the stage for what would become a legendary set.
The event invited hundreds of thousands of revellers to the venue and saw some incredible stand out performances across the weekend from Stevie Wonder, B.B. King and so many more. But undoubtedly, Ms Simone was the highlight. Below, we’re looking at the singer’s stunning performance of ‘Revolution’.
The Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of six free concerts held at the northern end of Central Park in New York in the summer of ’69. It was a celebration of youth, culture, and black power that some have dubbed the ‘Black Woodstock’. The NYPD refused to provide security for the concerts so the Black Panthers did and it set the tone for a revolutionary event.
As well as going down without too much trouble, the event showcased that the civil rights charge of the sixties was just the beginning—something which today feels all the more important.
Amid racial tensions and struggles, music has always been one unifying part of society. Here, Nina Simone takes to the stage to not exactly unite the people of New York and the world but to allow her voice to become the voice of countless African-Americans across the western world.
Taking to the stage, Simone said: “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?” It was a rallying call to arms from Simone who had, at this point, become a leading figure for racial equality and black pride. While her performance at the time was littered with hits, one song feels far more pertinent than the rest. ‘Revolution’.
Written by Simone and Weldon Irvine, the track not only plays into Simone’s jazz roots and stunning vocal power but also highlighted the singer’s true voice on racism and the place of black society in sixties America—sadly, it’s a similar story to this day. Yet the track offers a view of the future that is filled with hope and change.
The performance has often gone down as one of Simone’s greatest as she not only seems in love with her content still but feels genuinely engaged and engrossed by the event. Despite being widely attended and featuring some stunning performances, thanks to the institutional racism of America, the Harlem Cultural Festival would never be held again.
Watch below as Nina Simone gives a stunning performance of ‘Revolution’ the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969.