This month is all about Harlem. The Upper Manhattan neighbourhood has produced some of America’s greatest political minds and most talented artists of the last century, and throughout August events are taking place to celebrate Harlem Week. Forty-two years ago in 1974, it started out as a day but has since grown to reflect the rich diversity and history of this iconic neighbourhood. Now 2 million people will attend events for the young and old, filling the entire month. From seniors’ swimming demonstrations to hip hop film festivals, Harlem is celebrating it all.
Each Wednesday through August, The Apollo Theater features its famous amateur night with musical guests and this month, the focus falls on local up-and-coming talent. On Thursdays, you can see the Harlem Music Festival on the Summer stage. Also proving that August is best spent in Harlem is the renowned Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park at the impressive Richard Rogers Amphitheater.
If you’re planning to go, the weekend of August 20th and 21st is the one not to miss. Saturday is ‘Summer in the City’, which is estimated to be attended by 60,000 people. The events begin at 12:00, starting with the Children’s Festival. Children, aged 5-12, and their families can enjoy storytelling, dancing (from hip hop to tap and everything in between), theatre, double dutch competitions, face-painting, and so much more. It’s all taking place on West 135th Street – between Malcolm X & AC Powell Jr Boulevard.
At the other end of the spectrum, at the Hansborough Recreation Centre, senior citizens and their families can take part in swimming classes and enjoy the demonstrations for ‘Harlem Honeys & Bears’. The ‘Fashion Flava Show’ showcases fashion from the community’s designers and there’s also a Higher Education Fair & Expo taking place for those in the local community deciding upon universities.
Between 15:00 and 17:00, the ‘Uptown Saturday Concert’ of rock, RnB and hip hop provides the live music section of the day. And on the Great Lawn of St Nicholas Park from 19:00, there’s the Outdoor Festival in Concert. The screening that evening will be When We Were Kings – the story of the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman. Given Muhammed Ali’s recent passing, this is bound to be an emotional celebration of his life.
On Sunday, it’s ‘Harlem Day’. The music, fashion and fun continues across the day starting again with the Children’s Festival, this time with a ‘Back to School’ theme from 12:00-18:00. The Upper Manhattan Auto Show is also returning for its 23rd year. On Sunday, August 21st, the auto show takes place at West 135th Street and 5th Ave and the exhibition features unique, vintage and collectible cars, followed by a parade through the streets of Harlem. This is definitely one for any car enthusiasts.
Throughout both days, there will be exhibitors and vendors selling delicious food, arts and crafts and clothing. In Harlem, their hospitality ensures that there’s something for everyone.
The following weekend on Saturday 27th sees the anti-gun violence walk, ‘Percy Sutton 5K Run & NYC Health Walk’. The course runs through historic Harlem starting at 08:30, the community celebrations begin at midday and there will be DJs playing along the way, celebrating the music of Harlem. The Outdoor Cinema Festival in Concert continues on the Great Lawn that evening with a screening of Mavis! – a documentary on the life of gospel singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and her group The Staple Singers.
Walking around Harlem, its history is everywhere; from the street names and parks reminding us of political groundbreakers like Martin Luther King Jr, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, to the gospel churches and musical institutions like The Apollo Theater, now 82 years old. The immigrant population is represented in its cuisine, the best of which can be found at eateries like Red Rooster or Sylvia’s.
Go to Harlem, soak up the soul food, the supper clubs, the music, the people and learn more about the history of the neighbourhood. It’s an awe-inspiring part of Manhattan – one not to miss!
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