Album: The Time Has Come (1967)
Charted: 126
Play Video


  • "Uptown," also known as "Going Uptown To Harlem," is a celebration of Harlem, listing various local landmarks things to do in the New York City neighborhood. The song has a deeper meaning though: It deals with racism, as Blacks in New York City had a hard time hailing taxi cabs at the time. So if you were Black and in midtown, you had to walk or take the subway to get to Harlem.

    "When we originally did the song 'Going Uptown To Harlem,' there was a whole movement going on to where if you were Black and lived in New York, don't think you're going to get a taxi," Lester Chambers said on the Songfacts Podcast. "You could not get a taxi. The only way you could get a taxi was to have a white person stop it for you and act like they were going to get in it and you got in it."
  • The song was written by Betty Mabry, a musician, model, and songwriter who made her way to New York City, where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, from her hometown of Durham, North Carolina. Inspired by her difficulty getting a taxi and her fascination with Harlem, she put the song together. Arranged by Gary Sherman, it appeared on the first Chambers Brothers album, The Time Has Come, in 1967. The following year, Mabry married the jazz icon Miles Davis and became Betty Davis. She and Davis divorced a year later, but he sparked her creatively. Betty moved to London and released her first solo album in 1973. She became known for her funky grooves and bawdy lyrics, but released just three albums before retreating into seclusion in the '80s. She passed away in 2022 at age 77.
  • Released as a single, "Uptown" reached just #126, but the next Chambers Brothers single, "Time Has Come Today," did a lot better, rising to #11 and becoming a psychedelic soul classic.
  • Fittingly, The Chambers Brothers performed this song in 1969 at the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of six free concerts that drew about 50,000 fans each to Mount Morris Park in Harlem. Despite the big-name performers (Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone), cultural significance, and huge crowds, the festival was left out of the historical ledger for three reasons:

    1) Footage was buried.

    2) News coverage was minimal.

    3) Woodstock got all the attention.

    The festival finally got its historical due in 2021 with the movie Summer Of Soul. Directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of The Roots, it was the first time the footage saw the light of day. "Uptown" sets the tone for the film, with the Chambers Brothers performance appearing early on and playing under various soundbites to provide a sense of place. The documentary was widely viewed and highly acclaimed, winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
  • In his Songfacts interview, Lester Chambers talked about Summer Of Soul and performing this song at the Harlem Cultural Festival. "The weird thing is, Summer Of Soul - The Harlem Cultural Festival - was before Woodstock," he said. "So, that's why Harlem Cultural Festival got dumped in the basement, because they wanted Woodstock to shine. Why? Our cultural festival was black, Woodstock was white.

    If you look at the stage and the equipment that was provided for us, it was very minimum. There was no wall of sound back there. No sound company would come, would even talk to us about equipment for the festival, because they thought we were going to flop and not be able to pay the bill. So we had to bring our equipment, our personal equipment with us for that gig. Great music, great people, a great cast of musicians and bands. Oh my God, what an enjoyment it was."


Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks


KissFact or Fiction

Kiss is the subject of many outlandish rumors - some of which happen to be true. See if you can spot the fakes.

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music Scene

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music SceneSong Writing

With $50 and a glue stick, Bruce Pavitt created Sub Pop, a fanzine-turned-label that gave the world Nirvana and grunge. He explains how motivated individuals can shift culture.

Arrested For Your Art - The Story Of 2 Live Crew's "Obscene" Album

Arrested For Your Art - The Story Of 2 Live Crew's "Obscene" AlbumSong Writing

In the summer of 1990, you could get arrested for selling a 2 Live Crew album or performing their songs in Southern Florida. And that's exactly what happened.


MetallicaFact or Fiction

Beef with Bon Jovi? An unfortunate Spandex period? See if you can spot the true stories in this Metallica version of Fact or Fiction.

JJ Burnel of The Stranglers

JJ Burnel of The StranglersSongwriter Interviews

JJ talks about The Stranglers' signature sound - keyboard and bass - which isn't your typical strain of punk rock.

Yacht Rock!

Yacht Rock!Song Writing

A scholarly analysis of yacht rock favorites ("Steal Away," "Baker Street"...) with a member of the leading YR cover band.