James Brown: Live at the Boston Garden, 1968

ListenHear the entire broadcast of James Brown live at the Boston Garden, 1968 (1:48:10) MP3

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On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Boston, a city that was no stranger to racial tension, seemed ready to join the more than 60 other communities across the nation that were rioting. Mayor Kevin White considered canceling all public events in an effort to stem any potential violence.

James Brown Among those scheduled to perform in Boston on April 5 was James Brown, the "godfather of soul." White, recognizing Brown's popularity among black and white audiences, decided that canceling his performance might do more harm than good. WGBH was quickly enlisted to broadcast Brown's performance from the Boston Garden, as city officials urged residents to stay at home to enjoy the concert in their living rooms. Residents complied — 2,500 people attended the concert out of an expected 15,000. Aside from a couple of outbursts during the actual performance, James Brown held the city steady and gave one of the most fevered performances of his career.

Produced several years ago, The Politics of Soul combines WGBH's footage of the concert with Basic Black interviews with then mayor Kevin White, former city councilor Tom Atkins, and other community activists who helped convince city officials that Brown's concert would be an opportunity to promote healing and reconciliation. The Politics of Soul also features an interview with Kevin White by Louis Lyons from Channel 2's TV program Backgrounds and headlines and quotes from local newspapers of the day.