‘Summer of Soul’: Billy Davis Jr. & Marilyn McCoo share how the Harlem Cultural Festival impacted The 5th Dimension

Courtesy of Searchlight

Co-founding 5th Dimension members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. recall are sharing the emotional impact of being a part of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts that took place at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem over the course of several weekends.

Documented in Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson‘s directorial debut, Summer of Soul, includes footage of the musical group performing in front of a crowd of thousands at the festival. McCoo, the group’s original lead singer, says it was very important to the band members to been “seen and heard in Harlem.” 

“The 5th Dimension was known for a lot of our pop success,” McCoo tells ABC Audio. “But we wanted to be known and understood by our audiences in Harlem as well. We knew a lot of those people weren’t going to be able to get a chance to come and see one of our concerts and see the variety of music that we offered. So, doing a performance for this concert was important because we wanted them to have a little bit broader understanding of what The 5th Dimension was about musically. And so this gave us a chance to do it.”

Davis, who’s been married to McCoo since 1969, agrees, noting that being a part of the dynamic lineup that included  Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Nina Simone to name a few, made perfect sense since they currently had a hit song “Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In” on the airwaves.

“So a lot of people were waiting for us out there for that day,” he explains. [So] to be able to do that in front of our own folks was just a real thrill.”

Summer of Soul is now available in theaters and on Hulu.

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