Harlem Week returns to celebrate uptown culture with music, food and more

Music by DJ Cosi gets people dancing during the Sundae Sermon, a five-hour dance party at St. Nicholas Park, during Harlem Week on Aug. 12, 2018.
Music by DJ Cosi gets people dancing during the Sundae Sermon, a five-hour dance party at St. Nicholas Park, during Harlem Week on Aug. 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

When “Harlem Week” began 45 years ago, the tribute to the neighborhood lasted for only a day — known as “Harlem Day,” Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce president Lloyd Williams recalls.

Within a few years, the celebration had become a weeklong event. By the seventh year, Harlem Week stretched beyond seven days, but its organizers decided to keep the name, Williams said.

“The adage, therefore, is ‘Only in Harlem can a week last for a month,’” he joked.

This year’s festivities will kick off on Sunday and run through Aug. 31. The theme, “Our local history creates a global impact,” focuses on Harlem’s “cultural, political, civic and business influence throughout the country and across the world,” Harlem Week’s organizers said in a release.

“What happens in Harlem is important around the world,” Williams explained. “We want to make sure that the people in Harlem — particularly the people of color — do not lose their culture, do not lose the understanding of why Harlem is so significant.”

“And we understand that by doing positive things in Harlem, we are a living indicator to other urban areas about what they can do to focus on that,” he added.

Harlem Week this year will feature 112 different events and activities, Williams said, including concerts, Sunday gospel services, film screenings, sporting events, a 5K run, “Amateur Nights” at the Apollo Theater, events geared toward children and seniors and a restaurant week that will run from Aug. 19 to Sept. 1, featuring a number of different restaurants and eateries.

This year will also mark the very first “Harlem Jazz & Music Festival,” a “soon-to-be annual” event running from Aug. 24 to 31 that will feature concerts, performances, jazz brunches and other events, Harlem Week’s organizers said.

The festival will include tributes to artists like Smokey Robinson, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington, Williams noted.

New to the celebration this year is a partnership between Harlem and the city of Memphis, Tennessee. The idea for the collaboration came about as Memphis was planning for its bicentennial, which kicked off in May with the theme, “A New Century of Soul,” Williams said.

The partnership “will pay tribute to both iconic municipalities’ cultural impact on food and music throughout the world” and include events that showcase both Harlem and Memphis’ cuisines and music.

Sylvia’s Restaurant, Melba’s, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and Lucille’s are among the restaurants that will be participating in the “Taste of Memphis” events, according to Williams.

Harlem Week has something for everyone, Williams noted.

“If they come to take advantage of the food, we want them to go away saying, ‘Damn, the food was good,’” he said. “If they want to go to the nightclubs, we want them to feel the energy and the vibrance  of our nightclubs.”

“Really, people come for different things — they may come for the events at the Apollo, the outdoor concerts, they may come for the art exhibits, the Sunday gospel events at the churches,” he added. “There’s not one size fits all.”

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