In The Crowd For James Brown And Kevin White

By Jordan Weinstein

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Jan. 30, 2012


BOSTON — In 1968, a day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Boston famously played host to a James Brown concert at which Mayor Kevin White gave a speech that was supposed to inspire unity and peace:

"Twenty-four hours ago, Dr. King died — for all of us, black and white, that we may live together in harmony, without violence and in peace," he said. "Now I'm here tonight, like all of you, to listen to James. But I'm also here to ask for your help. I'm here to ask you to stay with me as your mayor and to make Dr. King's dreams a reality in Boston. This is our city, and its future is in our hands — tonight and tomorrow and in the days that follow.

But what did the fans think?

WGBH jazz host Al Davis was in that audience. He was 17 years old. And White's words didn't ring out so loudly to him.

"We wasn't really too impressed with Kevin White," he says now. "The reason he received that round of applause is because James Brown introduced him. James said he's cool? All right, we'll work with that." Brown was sort of a spokesman for young fans: "Whatever he said, we listened." In this case, Brown said the mayor was "a swinging cat."

The fans felt uncomfortable about the mayor, Davis says. "We knew what he was about. And we listened, but — we didn't listen. ... I personally didn't think he was really sincere because of what was going on at the time. But he had to do that because of the position he's in, being mayor. He had to make this presentation." 

They saved the listening for Brown, whose concert was "wonderful" — and who told everyone to go straight home after the show and not start trouble.

The start of the famous concert, with White's speech and Brown's first song:



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