Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Remembering James Brown in Boston, and the Death of Dr. King

A moment in civil rights history is being remembered as fans around the world say good-bye to James Brown. The "Godfather of Soul" was scheduled to perform in Boston the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in April 1968. Boston leaders urged Brown to cancel the show, as other cities erupted in violence. Instead, Brown arranged for the show to be broadcast live, and went on radio to encourage African Americans to stay home and watch. As the New York Times put it, "Boston was spared the riots that took place in other cities. 'Don't just react in a way that's going to destroy your community,' he urged." He then traveled to Washington, D.C., which had been hit with riots, to urge restraint.

You can see a clip of the historic Boston concert on YouTube. Brown's biography and work is described on his website, here.

A reader, Mojave Joe, has posted a helpful correction: "J. Anthony Lukas, in his book Common Ground, says that Brown did not want to be on T.V. because it would hurt him at the box office and because it would breach another contract that he had. Brown said he would do the show only if the city made up the difference, which it did using a secret fund."
Several sources report Brown's desire to televise the concert. The New York Times (not infallible!) suggests vaguely: "Instead of canceling his show, he had it televised." I don't have my copy of Lukas with me, but I consider Lukas to be a reputable source, especially on Boston.