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Vintage Harlem Festival Footage Comes To Light

After more than 35 years, pristine footage of a seemingly forgotten major music event is finally coming to light.

After more than 35 years, pristine footage of a seemingly forgotten major music event is finally coming to light. Shot by noted television producer/director Hal Tulchin, the reels of film capturing 1969's Harlem Music Festival hold performances by such artists as Sly & the Family Stone, B.B. King, the Staples Singers and Mahalia Jackson.

Filmmakers Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon ("Muddy Waters Can't Be Satisfied," "Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: 'Cowboy' Jack Clement's Home Movies") are working to edit footage into a feature-length film, with the goal of having it ready in time to premiere at January's annual Sundance Film Festival.

Tremolo Productions is working with Historic Films principal Joe Lauro, Moondog Films and the Rhythm & Blues Project to produce the film, which has a working title of "Harlem '69," and discussions with distributors are underway.

The Harlem Music Festival drew huge crowds to the northern end of New York's Central Park for six days in the summer of 1969. Emceed by Jesse Jackson, the concerts were sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee. Security was provided by the Black Panthers, a job said to have been declined by New York Police Department.

The festival was organized by Tulchin, who planned to sell footage from his five-camera shoot to a television network as a music special. An hour-long program was sold to international syndication, but no U.S. takers ever stepped up to the plate.

"Time and time again I was told candidly, 'There is no interest in putting on a black special,'" Tulchin is quoted saying in the liner notes of the RCA/Legacy DualDisc "The Soul of Nina Simone." Released last year, that title is the sole U.S. outlet for previously unreleased footage from the event. The set included four songs -- "Revolution," "Four Woman," "Ain't Got No" and "Young, Gifted and Black" -- Simone performed during the festival.

More than three decades later, what is sometimes referred to as "The Black Woodstock" remains something of an obscurity. Neville and Gordon hope to change that with the release of their as-yet-untitled documentary. Along with performance footage, the filmmakers plan to put the concerts in context of its historical relevance through interviews with surviving participants.

Producers hope to develop further projects from the footage, which includes the full performances by each act.