Brown Quiets The Night in Boston!

Photo by Thomas E. Landers/Globe Boston, afternoon April 5, 1968

Photo by Thomas E. Landers/Globe
Boston, afternoon April 5, 1968

As you know it is Black Music Month! And if you are like me you are knee deep in the melodies of some good Black music (just like last month and the month before that and the month . . .)

Anyway here is little something for you to chew on for Black Music Month!

Did you know James Brown and his music saved Boston from being destroyed on April 5, 1968? It’s true. As Brown would say, “Here’s how the whole thang went down, man!”

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. was assassinated while supporting the striking Black public sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. As soon as his assassination made the news, Black folks became enraged at the untimely loss of their beloved champion of equality. Feeling hopeless, frustrated, and angry with their lingering social status as well as becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of King’s campaign of non-violence, the youth (who drove the movement of civil equality) responded with aggressive violent resistance toward the oppressive power structure. A swell of rioting broke out in Black urban centers across America the evening of April 4th 1968 . . . including Boston!

Months before Dr. King’s assassination, James Brown was scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden. However, given the social unrest in Boston by the Black youth, city officials including Boston Mayor Kevin White thought it would be best to cancel the concert in an attempt to restore order amid the growing civil unrest in and around Boston.  However, Boston’s only African American City Councilman, Tom Atkins thought otherwise. He was convinced that allowing the concert to continue would be best for the city in terms of diminishing the-sure-to-come destructive riot.  He was quickly able to convince Mayor White that allowing the concert to go on would allow a space for the youth to release their frustrations in a non-destructive way.  Atkins also suggested the concert be televised on local TV station WGBH to reach the homes of those youth who could not attend the concert.

Photo by Bob Deen Atkins, White, and Brown workin' it out!

Photo by Bob Deen
Atkins, White, and Brown workin’ it out!

His thinking Brown, one of the hottest acts in the country, would be able to persuade the city’s youth to stay in and forego a violent protest in the city.  Mayor White took a gamble and agreed with Atkins.  Atkins, White, and Brown met to work out the money details of a live broadcast.

So, the evening of April 5, 1968, while several urban centers across America experience a second night of rioting in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, James Brown and his band put on a captivating high energy show, which redirected the youth’s feelings of angst and sorrow to one of a celebration of life and peace. Brown’s presence and music did in fact quiet the hostile youth in the city of Boston and the surrounding urban areas that evening. In the end, Boston experienced no more disruption than a typical Friday night for that city. Boston was saved by James Brown.

What’s more is that the Boston Garden concert was recorded and preserved for us to watch today.  We now have the opportunity to witness the amazing James Brown in action roughly 24hrs after King’s assassination. We can watch his music captivate and stop the youth, city-wide, from violent resistance.  We get to witness the moment Brown’s music emerged as the undisputed musical beacon of Black empowerment following the Boston concert in 1968.

Photo by Bob Deen Brown Live on stage in Boston Garden

Photo by Bob Deen
Brown Live on stage in Boston Garden

From the great words spoken by Atkins, White, and Brown at the beginning of the concert to the driving tempos to Maceo’s Parker’s solo to the pace of the Go Go dancer’s hips to the concert’s ending with Brown’s interjections of Black pride to thwart a sure riot on the Garden stage are not to be missed.  Take a look and listen below and be mindful of how quiet things are in the streets during the time of the concert. James Brown saved Boston!

Enjoy Black Music Month!

For more info on that night check this out!:

See entire concert here:


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