Summer of Soul Documentary Movie with Questlove Q&A

I have a Patreon-only blog where I share all of my thoughts and in-depth explorations about the complex link between mental health and art. I try to share three posts per week and it starts at just $5 per month; you get a 10% discount if you pay annually. I decided to share this recent Patreon post so that more of you can see the types of things that I’m sharing there. I’m hoping that this will inspire you to support my work. It’s hard to make a living as a full-time writer in San Francisco, especially writing about things I care about, and each Patreon supporter really helps so much. So here’s an example of what you might see if you support me there. I’m sharing the post in full because I want you to get a feel for the casual style, the sometimes-not-completed thoughts, and yet also the passion and excitement I have for everything I share there.

Summer of Soul Documentary Movie with Questlove Q&A

As I mentioned in my last note to you, I got the chance to go see the “Summer of Soul” documentary this past week. There are a few ways it relates to the topic of music therapy and thus to the relationship between art and mental health.
First, let me just tell you how special it was to go see this film. It was part of the documentary film series at the historic Castro theater. I love documentaries. I love film festivals. And I absolutely love the Castro theater. It’s old and the seats aren’t comfy and there weren’t concessions because of COVID but I was still so glad to get the chance to be back in there. It’s got so much rich history for our city and so many good memories for me personally. I took my dad to the silent film festival there when he visited me. I saw the opening of Milk there with people who had lived in the Castro at the time of his assassination and cried during the movie. If you don’t know the place, it’s a two story historic theater with beautiful art and an organ player who rises up from under the stage to play before the movie instead of having previews.
Second, if you don’t know about this film, I’ll tell you about it briefly. In 1969, the same year as Woodstock, there was a series of six weekend music festivals called the Harlem Cultural Festival. Over 300,000 people, mostly people of color, mostly Black people, attended. It was an unprecedented event that brought Black musicians to the stage across so many genres of music – jazz, soul, blues, pop, gospel, African drumming and more. Have you ever heard of this festival? Most people haven’t. The first five weeks of the event were filmed, but, long story short, the footage just sat in storage for the past five decades. There is a whole lot to be said about who tells history, and how that has led to the erasure of people’s history. I should state clearly that I’m a white woman trying to address this all in a culturally-sensitive way. And the movie is a million times better than I at exploring all this. Just watch the movie. It’s currently on Hulu.
But here’s the part I feel competent to talk about to some degree … art in the form of music as it relates to mental health. This almost feels like it’s coming full circle to when I first re-launched this new version of my Patreon because I wrote about the When The Music Stops conference I went to which is about suicide prevention through music. I don’t know music well – not like I know writing, not even like I know fashion. But music is also universal. And I think to some degree or another we all understand it can have a healing impact.
There’s a section where it discusses gospel music, it’s relationship to the African American historical experience, and its ability to move people through the darkest of traumas. It might be about religion, but the religion itself might not be the point at all times. It’s the depth of soul stirring in the music, the wailing and emotion and movement and tone that all comes together to make this a healing music. It heals individuals and it heals communities. As someone who doesn’t know a lot about gospel music, I learned a lot. But without knowing anything at all, I could see the healing happening. There’s a scene where Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples are singing Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite song (he’d been assassinated not long before) and some of the close-up shots of Mahalia’s face are the strongest examples I’ve ever seen of both pain and healing happening at the same time. It’s like the trauma was being worked out through the song, through the swell of the music, through the experience of sharing that with a crowd. I won’t speak to what her experience was. But I will say I had chills watching it. And I’m not the only one. Although the film is on the small screen, I feel lucky to have had the chance to see some of these moments on the big screen.
During that gospel section, but perhaps applying to other music as well, Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks, “Gospel was more than religious. Gospel was the therapy for the stress and pressure of being Black in America. We didn’t go to a psychiatrist. We didn’t go lay on a couch. We didn’t know anything about a therapist. But we know Mahalia Jackson.”
This speaks to a few key things that I want to highlight:
1. There is individual mental health and there is community mental health. We as a society need to address both. This includes the fact that individual and community trauma, including historical and intergenerational trauma, is linked together.
2. There are different ways of healing both at the individual and collective level. Art is one of those ways. Expressing yourself through art and music is individual catharsis. Sharing art and music in community with others can be community catharsis. 
3. Having our art seen and validated is healing for our minds and spirits. Several people mentioned how unique it was to be in a community of so many Black people. The 5th Dimension had not previously been very accepted within the Black community because they were a pop band. They experienced the problem of being “not Black enough” so to go out on that stage at a Black event facing tens of thousands of Black faces was so healing for them. Of course, this is not just about the art … there are many layers here. But the art is a part of it.
Continuing on off of that last point, director Questlove shared an interesting part of the film’s back story. So no one was interested in the footage at the time of the event and although attempts were made at times to bring it to light, it was mostly forgotten. People barely, if at all, knew about this critical part of Black history. (It’s also critical to music history. He particularly chose to show the songs artists were playing right at the transition between who they were in the earlier 1960s and who they were becoming in the early 1970s; Stevie Wonder’s sets are great examples of that.) So the way that history was preserved and the lens it was told through effectively erased this key time. And it almost happened again today … 
There’s this amazing part of the film where right at the same time as the event was going on, (white) man landed on the moon. And reporters came out and asked people what they thought. The nicest comments were basically, “that’s amazing for science but this particular weekend is more important for me” to “why the heck are we wasting so much money sending a man to the moon when people right here in Harlem are poverty stricken?!” So first of all this is one of many comparisons that we can draw about what was happening then to what’s happening now (Jeff Bezos). But also apparently that footage of those Black people saying that about the moon landing never aired. So when Questlove’s team tried to get permission from CBS to air it, they tried to say that they have a precedent of only allowing what’s already aired to be shown again. Unseen footage isn’t released. Well there was a lot of back and forth but basically they had to explain to CBS that choosing not to share that footage was effectively continuing to erase the Black experience of that moment in history.
So art matters on just so many levels. It matters that they did this music festival. It matters that they filmed it. It matters that a team came together fifty years later to dig through those archives and show this footage to us today. History isn’t exactly linear. We can heal the past by knowing about it, working through it, sharing it, understanding it, changing it. Art is a key part of that. 
I hope you get some of what I’m trying to share here. I feel really inarticulate on this subject. I also only saw the film once and I’m still digesting it, and I think there’s a lot more to be said. But one of my goals of this Patreon-only blog is to share with you the writings that aren’t ready to be shared with the rest of the world, yet. They’re raw, unformed, still coming in to their own. They’re my truths, my vulnerabilities, my questions, me tentative answers, my explorations, and my thoughts the best I can convey them in the moment.
And you don’t know how much I value that you continue to support me in this endeavor. It helps me financially to have a little bit of time to work on this labor of love. But more than that it helps me feel like I’m heading in the right direction with my work and that this work really matters. And I hope that me doing this encourages other people to do the same with the work that matters to them.
Hugest of hugs,
Did you enjoy this post? This is some of the stuff you’ll see on Patreon. Please consider supporting me. It only costs $5 per month. As I recently shared with my current supporters, here are additional ways to support me:
1. Let other people know about this Patreon account, why you like it, and how much you would love it if they would support me at any level.You can share it one social media, in newsletters, on blogs, via email or Messenger or text, through word of mouth. It matters. Here’s the link for them to check it out: https://www.patreon.com/kvercillo
It helps if you do this once. It helps even more if you do it each time a new post comes out that you like. I usually mention my posts on Instagram at either @createmefree or @kathrynlucillevercillo so you can just share those posts and say, “hey, I’m a follower, I love this new post, and you should sign up”. 
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7. Make a one-time bonus contribution of any amount. I have PayPal, Venmo and other options. Message me @Kathryn.vercillo@gmail.com if you want info. If you can’t tell, I’m trying to be subtle about it but money is so hard right now. That’s just the reality. And if it’s hard for you right now, don’t feel like you have to give more. But if you have any extra and this is a thing you believe in, then I’m letting you know that now is a time I need it.
And if none of that is possible, that’s okay. You’re here and I love that you’re here, and I’m grateful for every time you read any one of my posts. What you do matters.
Biggest of hugs and hugest of gratitude,
I’ve been pursuing my creativity in multiple ways for as long as I can remember :-p

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