The Night James Brown Saved Boston

[This bit of music history is courtesy Juliette Jagger. -AC]

The evening of April 5, 1968 has often been called the night James Brown saved Boston. At the time, America was in the throws of bloodshed and violence. Tensions surrounding the civil rights movement had reached a boiling point, the US was still in Vietnam, rioting had broken out across the nation, and only one-day prior, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated on the second floor balcony of The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. America was shaken to its core.

Scheduled to take place at the Boston Gardens that evening, the James Brown concert was nearly cancelled by the city out of fear that with an estimated 20,000 concertgoers expected to be in attendance, further violence would ensue. Thankfully, Harvard Law student, Tom Adkins (Boston’s only black city councilman) knew better and advised Boston’s Mayor, Kevin White, that if the black community found out the city wouldn’t allow James Brown to perform in the wake of Dr. King’s death, all hell would surely break loose.

Realizing that James Brown could speak directly to the frustration, anger, shock and sadness of black America at that moment, Mayor White took a chance and decided that the best way to keep people from rioting was to broadcast the concert live and keep them at home watching it.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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