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The Night James Brown Saved Boston

Documentary that situates the concert in a larger context
By ADAM REILLY  |  August 5, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars


David Leaf’s VH1 rock-doc treatment of James Brown’s April 5, 1968, concert at Boston Garden aired last April, on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination; now it’s getting screenings at the MFA. Brown’s concert, which took place the day after the murder, was televised on WGBH-TV, and it’s been credited with helping Boston avoid the rioting that hit so many big US cities after King’s death. The Night James Brown Saved Boston doesn’t break any new ground, but it does situate the concert in a larger context. Kevin White recalls his 1968 campaign against anti-busing advocate Louise Day Hicks; ex-Bostonian Cornel West expounds on the spiritual impact of King’s assassination; Al Sharpton explains the difference between Brown and artists like Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. Brown became irate when he learned that White had arranged for WGBH to broadcast the show, and he agreed to perform only after, following some diplomatic maneuvering by then Boston city councilor Tom Atkins, the city agreed to guarantee $60,000 in projected lost revenues. And White’s prompting of the WGBH broadcast stemmed from a desire to keep angry black youth out of the downtown area; Cornel West wonders whether he would have done the same if the concert had been slated for a black neighborhood. Thanks to VH1’s admirable treatment, however, the memory of what Brown and White accomplished 40 years ago should endure. 66 minutes | MFA: August 8, 9, 10, 17, 24

Related: Soul control, The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history: 1, Wet fuse, More more >
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