“Boston’s Racism Problem Might Stem from James Brown’s Decidedly Opulent 1968 Ultimatum”

Now, of course, the primary culprit here is America, itself, which initiated this imperially minded stew and which generally housed the widespread, racially-tinged riots of 1968, the results of MLK’s assassination. The city of Boston was caught in the middle of this madness in a way that especially pertains to Dolby Disaster: a James Brown concert was scheduled at the Boston Garden on April 5 and was almost cancelled by Boston mayor Kevin White. According wgbh.org, the initial measure of cancellation by White was taken “fearing it could provoke the kind of rioting that so many American cities had seen after King’s death.”

Subsequently, though, and probably wisely, White did allow the concert to go on, though not without a certain element of logistical complication. According to WGBH, Brown demanded a $60,000 bonus just for doing the one-night show, upon hearing that the concert was going to be televised, thereby foreseeing a drop in attendance. 

As it turns out, Brown was on to something: the event was only physically attended by 2,000 people, compared to the 14,000 the Garden could hold, in full capacity. Still, it seems an awfully pecuniarily-minded gesture for such a volatile time in history: televising a concert to try to quell an entire nation of their unrest and violent rancor, and thereby overseeing a giant swell in the amount of people exposed to and turned on my Brown’s performance. The “hardest working man in show business” certainly seems to have had a penchant for treating it like a “business,” consistently and tenaciously, as it were. The sheer mass of these figures, taken to 1960s scale, should illustrate that, even this early in his career, Brown wasn’t exactly scraping to get by. For the life of me, I can’t seem to find a ticket price figure online for this show, but according to Google, “a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert cost about $8 in 1969.” Of course, it’s also possible that his record label was ripping him off. I’m not really sure of the details. 

Anyway, looking later at the history of the Boston Garden, I noticed that, bizarrely, on the Temptations tour of the next year, they visited Madison Square Garden but not the namesake of Beantown. Looking, then, on the ensuing concerts that would take place at the BG, according to Wikipedia, I saw a veritable deluge of white artists, from the Grateful Dead, to Bob Seger, to Pink Floyd, etc., and never once saw another booking of James Brown, or Stevie Wonder, or War, or any of the other notable black artists of the 1960s. The Jackson 5 appeared on the list but not Michael Jackson, further implying a catalyzing force on the part of Brown’s move discouraging the Garden’s booking team from scheduling black acts. 

Now, if this is the case, obviously, it was more a move made out of spite than any sort of logic, or business sense. After all, Brown was only asking for compensatory damages, in a sense — it wasn’t really a “bonus,” eventually, but rather just a correction to the extreme deterioration in ticket sales caused by the show being available on television. Another question looming is as to who made the decision to televise the concert — it certainly doesn’t seem to be anyone catering to Brown’s or the venue’s bottom line, which is certainly intriguing, to say the least. 

As certain reports have had it, Boston is among the leading, or the very leading, city, nationwide, for racism. Time and again, this cultural malady has apparently reared its ugly head in sports, with prevalent stars like LeBron James making light of racial slurs, and calling the Boston fans the most notorious for color-related bigotry. Boston has also never had a high-profile black rap artist, which is certainly remarkable for a prominent big city as such, and amazing too considering the popularity of the all-white House of Pain, proud Bostonians proviso of the indefatigable hit single “Jump around.” In order to embrace black people and value their presence and contributions, perhaps, a community needs a black icon. Perhaps this is what Boston is lacking, seeing it replaced by a de facto money miser in James Brown, should he be seen in such a sense. Clearly, anyway, the Boston Garden’s ensuing refusal to house black acts has almost definitely contributed to the demographic chasm in Boston’s community, and likely quelled the growth of local, black styles of music, in the process — hardly a promising thing for any person with an interest in that city’s music scene. 


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