Excitement was in the air as hundreds flocked to Paisley Park in Chanhassen for an intimate screening of the music documentary and film, “Summer of Soul.” Released theatrically and digitally on Hulu this past summer, the two-hour concert film is a historical time capsule into Black culture and soul during the late 1960s and features performances by an array of artists including Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, and Stevie Wonder.
Directed by musician, writer, and noted Prince enthusiast Amir “Questlove” Thompson, the film unearths footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which took place over the course of six days.
The film screening and event on Sunday, Sept. 19 at Paisley Park featured a 30-minute Q&A session with the film’s director and a Prince-themed DJ set for VIP attendees.
Moderated by music journalist, author, writer, and host of the “Official Prince Podcast,” Andrea Swensson, Questlove spoke at length about Prince’s legacy, the significance of the film, and what he hopes to be its lasting impact.
A noted historian, the Roots’ drummer also took time to recount his first visit to Paisley Park while on tour with D’Angelo.
“I remember first visiting Paisley Park back in 2000, “Questlove recalled. “We were on the ‘Voodoo’ tour and had checked into our hotel when we received a message saying, ‘He wants to see you.’ Of course, that ‘he’ was Prince and suddenly we were summoned to Paisley Park.
“This was before social media, so it was always interesting that Prince knew where to find us,” continued Questlove. “What I remember most about my first visit was getting the chance to perform with Prince and D’Angelo. We were performing in front of a small audience of three, but Prince still gave his all. That’s one of the things that made him special.”
For Swensson, moderating the session for such a prominent figure meant tapping into Questlove’s vast knowledge of music and other historical moments. She described the feeling of conversing with hip hop’s Renaissance Man during the event.
“Questlove’s deep well of knowledge about Black music history, and particularly the details of Prince’s recording career in the 1980s, is such an inspiration to me, as a fellow historian and researcher,” Swensson explained.
“It was a little intimidating trying to put together questions that could match his depth, but I also wanted to give him space to share how he was feeling in that moment, showing his debut documentary in the same space where one of his biggest heroes made his music videos and films,” Swensson said.
In the five years since Prince’s passing, Paisley Park has played host to a variety of events and celebrations. Sunday’s film screening was a welcome addition to the venue’s lineup as Swensson would explain.
“Seeing ‘Summer of Soul’ at Paisley Park seemed like such a natural fit, not only because of Questlove’s deep admiration for Prince but also because of how hard Prince worked to uplift Black talent—and particularly Black women—throughout his life and career,” Swensson noted.
“I couldn’t help but think about how much Prince would have loved watching the footage of a young Mavis Staples, who was his friend and who recorded two albums with him at Paisley Park, or what impact this footage would have had on him as a teenager if it had been released rather than discarded,” Swensson continued. “And something that really struck me while speaking with Questlove is how impactful this film will be on the young musicians coming up now. It felt healing to watch this film at Paisley Park, especially after the trauma that Minnesotans have endured over the past 18 months.
“It made me wish that we could have a Minneapolis Cultural Festival now to uplift our Black community members in the same way that the Harlem Cultural Festival did in the summer of 1969.”
Questlove was able to further reflect and elaborate on the film’s retrospective impact by drawing comparisons to Prince’s 2019 memoir, as well as a ’70s TV show that changed the landscape of Black culture.
“When I was looking at the film’s footage, it was around the time that ‘The Beautiful Ones’ had come out. In the book, Prince spoke about how Woodstock was such a pivotal moment for him and how it helped him to realize what he wanted to do for a living,” Questlove explained.
“Then it made me wonder, ‘What if this film had come out in ’71 or ’72? Could it have changed my life?’ And the weird thing is what ended up replacing this film was Woodstock.
“But with our film, I wonder had it actually come out would it have defined a generation and flourished had it been released in the same fashion? Yet what wound up replacing this movie was ‘Soul Train.’”
He continued, “With Soul Train, it was the first time the world got to see what we now call ‘Black joy.’ It showed Black people not mired in controversy or civil unrest. It was our first look at Afrocentricity and that’s what this film could have been.”
As the film continues to amass praise and attention, Sunday evening’s event at Paisley Park is undoubtedly a testament to its staying power as an important historical picture.
For Swensson the praise is well-deserved.
“Without hyperbole, I can say it’s the best music documentary I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The concert itself is mesmerizing, even without the additional interviews and archival footage, but the way Questlove wove everything together is truly a work of art. Other filmmakers will surely be inspired by the message of this film.”
“Summer of Soul” is available for streaming on Hulu.
For info on events at Paisley Park, visit the official website: www.paisleypark.com.