The Night that James Brown Saved Boston


On April 5, 1968, James Brown sang, and the city of Boston didn’t burn down. (WGBH)

Following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, there was widespread turmoil throughout the nation's urban centers. On the night of April 5th, James Brown brought the city of Boston together and kept the riots at bay. But it wasn't easy.

On April 5th, with the city still reeling from the brutal news, Kevin White, the mayor of Boston, was facing a difficult choice. James Brown was scheduled to play the Boston Garden, and the mayor felt that, with so many people in such a heightened emotional state, there would be an increased risk of rioting, as had been seen in cities across the country. Or he could cancel the show, which could prove to be even more disastrous.

The Night James Brown Saved Boston details the story of how James Brown and his band, Mayor Kevin White, and producers at WGBH kept riots at bay by holding the concert and broadcasting it live on TV, thereby keeping people either at the show, or at home, glued to their sets watching the Godfather of Soul perform, broker peace between fans and security, and above all else, get funky and keep folks from being super bad.

When the concert ended, WGBH played it again. And again.

In honor of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 50th anniversary of James Brown saving Boston, we dug up the movie on YouTube in eight parts.

Related Stories

  • MLK50: The Songs of the Civil Rights Movement On the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, we're remembering his life by playing music from (and inspired by) the civil-rights movement. Tune in to The Current from 12-4 p.m. for a special program hosted by production manager Derrick Stevens.