Remembering the James Brown Concert on WGBH in 1968

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On the morning after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., city officials in Boston, Massachusetts, were scrambling to prepare for an expected second straight night of violent unrest.

Similar preparations were being made in cities across America, including in the nation’s capital, where armed units of the regular Army patrolled outside the White House and U.S. Capitol following President Johnson’s state-of-emergency declaration.

But Boston would be nearly alone among America’s major cities in remaining quiet and calm that turbulent Friday night, thanks in large part to one of the least quiet and calm musical performers of all time. On the night of April 5, 1968, James Brown kept the peace in Boston by the sheer force of his music and his personal charisma…

Public television station WGBH carried the concert on short notice [and] the broadcast of Brown’s concert had the exact effect it was intended to, as Boston saw less crime that night than would be expected on a perfectly normal Friday in April.

From the James Brown channel on YouTube

April 5, 1968. It is the day after one of the most catastrophic moments in the history of the civil rights movement. Backstage at the Boston Garden, the mood is somber, appropriately funereal. Just 24 hours ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., the most important and beloved African American leader in America, has been assassinated, and though James Brown is booked that night for a show, nobody really wants to go onstage and play.

On April 4, 1968, the leader of the nonviolent resistance movement, Martin Luther King, was assassinated in Memphis. On April 5, 1968, James Brown sang, and the city of Boston didn’t burn down.

This film tells the story of the pivotal role that James Brown—and that particular James Brown concert—played in the political, social and cultural history of the country, focusing on 1968, a defining year for America.


  1. Bob Manosky on February 7, 2018 at 11:41 am

    A little reported sidebar.

    After the mayor’s appearance at the Garden, he came to Studio C and went live all night. I was the only one in the studio with him. If you remember only one person was needed to run camera and stage manage.

    We didn’t talk much. He was very nervous and chain smoking Camels. He went on and off the air during that evening.

    It all worked out.

  2. Bob Seay on February 3, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    From Bob Seay, WGBH News producer/reporter, February 2018

    To ‘GBHers who may have been here 50 years ago…

    We are planning a 50th anniversary look back at the legendary James Brown concert on April 5, 1968, which we broadcast live the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

    I am especially interested in speaking with anyone who worked that day and night producing the program or who has information about who was at the station and/or working the concert that night.

    You may contact Bob at .

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