Harlem is at, and perhaps created, a crossroads of international and domestic culture.
Although situated in upper Manhattan, the world’s pop culture capital, Harlem has its own unique cultural context that distinguishes its neighborhood from the rest of the greater metropolis and the world.
Since the early 20th century, it has been regarded as the cultural capital of the African diaspora. It is also the home of jazz and bebop; the legendary Apollo Theater, where many great artists including Jimmy Hendrix began; world famous houses of worship, like the Abyssinian Baptist church; and some of the best academic institutions in the world.
More than just another one of New York City’s many neighborhoods, it is an amalgamation of African, Caribbean, Hispanic, and European culture. It is the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance; it was one of the leading communities during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and presently, it is considered a culinary mecca.
This upcoming Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of Harlem Week, an annual summer festival that celebrates Harlem’s long cultural legacy. The event is organized by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and as its president Lloyd Williams recounts, the festival began as a day-long tribute to the neighborhood.
The festival has since grown into a month-long celebration that includes over 100 events, ranging in subject from food to fashion, to the arts and music, and even technology, of course, all within the context of experiencing the social impact Harlem continues to generate on global culture. Whatever your interests, there is an event for everything and everyone.
The first event, on Sunday July 28th, will be “A Great Day in Harlem”, an outdoor festival at the U.S. Grant National Memorial Park (Riverside Dr. b/w W. 120th St. &W 124th St.), which is themed after Bill Withers’ “A Lovely Day” and will include music by R&B, Gospel, Latin and Jazz artists, dancing, arts and crafts, exhibits, food , drink, and shopping. Sunday’s event is free and open to the public, featuring the Artz, Rootz & Rhythm International Showcase (1-3PM), the Regional Gospel Concert (3-4:30PM), and the Urban Fashion Fusion Showcase (4:30-5:30PM).
One of the highlights of this year’s celebration is the multi-year partnership between Harlem and the City of Memphis, a partnership which is supposed to illuminate both communities’ impact on culture, innovation, and education throughout the world. Visitors and Locals will get the unique opportunity to experience Memphis “soul” through various cultural products that will be exported to Harlem.
Such events include “A Taste of Memphis and Harlem”, which runs from August 12-18, where there will be popular dishes from both cities available at select Harlem restaurants, including Sylvia’s, Melba’s, Dinosaur BBQ, and many more.
Sunday, August 18th, is “Harlem Day” (W 135th St.b/w St. Nicholas Ave. & 5th Avenue), which runs from 9am to 7pm, and includes a parade of automobiles, the Upper Manhattan Auto Show, a business expo, and a back to school fashion show, amongst many other events throughout the day.
The original one-day celebration of Harlem’s culture that bloomed into Harlem Week couldn’t contain all of the incredible culture deserving of a platform for recognition, nor can the current month-long celebration. So, stop by while you can to absorb and participate in the rich history of New York’s most culturally rich neighborhood.