Video: In 1968, James Brown Saved Boston

By Bob Seay

April 4, 2011

From the WGBH archive: James Brown plays the Boston Garden.

BOSTON — On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was assasinated, James Brown played a concert at the Boston Garden. Despite the threat of riots that were breaking out on the streets of the nation's inner-cities, Boston Mayor Kevin White allowed the concert to go on. He also asked WGBH to broadcast the concert, so that people could watch from the safety of their own homes.

That weekend, there was no rioting in Boston.

WGBH Morning Edition host Bob Seay was just getting started out in broadcasting that night, and he spent the broadcast in the control room at WGBH-TV. Seay remembers what happened that evening:

In the midst of the national trauma and fear the followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was a brilliant stroke on Mayor Kevin White’s part not to cancel the concert but instead let it go on, and then to ask WGBH to broadcast it live -- to record it and replay it through the night and weekend, all in an effort to keep the lid on any violence that might break out.

I remember the rush to get all of the equipment together needed for the live broadcast from Boston Garden, and the very few hours the crew had to get it all set up.

Remember, we were going live -- which in 1968 was considerably more challenging than it is today -- and the stakes were very high.

I remember sitting in the control room that night as the concert began waiting to see if the city would explode in anger and violence as so many had following the death of King... but it never happened. As anyone can see today in film of the event, James Brown delivered an incredibly inspired performance. He connected with his audience in Boston Garden and, thanks to WGBH, connected with his many fans beyond and throughout the city.

And it worked. Brown’s music -- what he said and sang -- to a troubled city kept the peace. All in all, it was one of the most amazing nights of live TV anyone could experience. I was privileged to be here at WGBH the night “James Brown saved Boston."

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