The Night James Brown Saved Boston

On April 5th, 1968, the day after MLK was assassinated, riots flared up in cities all over the quiet. While Boston had been relatively quiet, there had been isolated looting and assaults. James Brown was scheduled to perform at a sold out show at the Boston Garden. For more on the concert’s back story, and how it was canceled before being allowed to proceed check this article in the Globe from 2006.

This video opens with a comedian until about 7:30 in when James Brown comes on and torches the stage for about 25 minutes. He brings the tempo down for about 10 minutes before introducing a female singer. At 1:05:30, Mayor Kevin White is introduced and he addresses the audience, beseeching the 2,000 people who had shown up, and the tens of thousands watching on TV across the city, to honor Dr. King by remaining peaceful.

JB starts up again and at around 1:34:00 some audience members begin climbing onto the stage. This escalates for 10 minutes until black audience members are being pushed off the stage by white police officers every few seconds. There’s one point where the tension seems about to boil over, the stage is filled with people and James is being swarmed. He asks the police to step back and let him handle it. And they do. And he does. And I can’t imagine the disaster that was averted. In trying to avoid riots, the city almost televised the beginning of one live.

I think this video is the raw footage from the television broadcast. It’s grainy as hell and the sound is awful, but there are wide swaths of this performance that transfixed me. The band is unbelievably tight, starting and stopping and swinging. Amazing.

There’s a DVD of the evening with the same title of this post.

And WGBH the original broadcaster of the concert has this page where you can listen to the audio of the concert and watch their documentary of the evening, The Politics of Soul.

The Night James Brown Saved Boston

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