James Brown and the Healing Power of Music
I’m not sure I can do this justice…but something as magnificent as this deserves a mention of some kind.
One of my greatest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis 43 years ago yesterday, April 4th. (That’s the back story…NOT the magnificent part)
“Early morning, April 4…Shots ring out in the Memphis sky…Free at last, they took your life…They could not take your pride.” – U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
As word of Dr. King’s assassination spread, people were understandably upset. The African-American community was understandably – and deservedly – upset. Tensions ran high everywhere.
Race relations in the United States were already a powder keg in April 1968…and the slaying of this great leader was the spark that set it off.
Many cities erupted in violence and rioting. People everywhere were scared. And angry.
The Godfather of Soul, the great James Brown, was scheduled to perform a concert at the Boston Gardens the following day, April 5th. As cities across the nation burned – in flames and anger – and tensions escalated, many urged JB to cancel the show. For most of the day, people questioned whether the show would go on. If it did go on, many worried that the mostly African-American audience would be set off by Soul Brother #1 and the concert would be a flashpoint for violence in Boston.
It was decided that the show should proceed. Brown’s people worked with the mayor’s office and a local television station and a plan was hatched: the show would go on and would be televised, live. Leading up to the show, residents were urged to stay in their homes, safely off the streets, and enjoy the concert from their living rooms.
As the concert opened, James Brown interrupted the mayor’s official introduction, calling him “a swingin’ cat.” Boston Mayor Kevin White in turn introduced James Brown with the following: “All of us are here tonight to listen to a great talent; James Brown. But we’re also here to pay tribute to one of the greatest Americans; Dr. Martin Luther King. All I ask you tonight is this…to let us look at each other, here in the Gardens and back at home, and pledge that no matter what any other community might do, we in Boston will honor Dr. King in peace.”
And the show began.
I’ve never read anything that details what James Brown talked about leading up to that concert. But he CLEARLY knew the responsibility that lay before him. It was up to one man…Soul Brother #1, The Hardest Workin’ Man in Show Business, The Godfather of Soul…JAMES BROWN to hold an entire city together and, in a way, heal an entire nation.
I can’t imagine the feeling in the air the day after Martin Luther King was killed. Tense wouldn’t begin to describe it. This one great man who fought – peacefully – so hard to unite America…taken violently in a disgusting act of hate.
Only music can soothe a hurt like that. JB knew that. He knew what people needed.
And he delivered.
It worked. Boston remained peaceful and somehow – some little way – comforted.
Shout! Factory has released a DVD of the full concert. In 2008 VH1 aired a documentary called “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”. You can view it in segments on YouTube. I urge you to. It gives an amazing sense of the power of James Brown. More importantly it gives an incredible sense of the power of music. To heal. To comfort. To unify.
“I Got the Feelin’”? …Indeed. “I Feel Good”.
“Get up offa that thang…And dance ’til you feel better”