In Tense Times, James Brown Stays Cool


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James Brown in the '60s' shows how the Godfather of Soul calmed Boston

James Brown became a powerful symbol of black culture, thanks to such hits as “Say It Loud -- I'm Black and I'm Proud" and “I Got You (I Feel Good)."

On April 5, 1968, James Brown stood as a voice of reason and restraint in a city on the edge of rampage. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated the day before in Memphis, Tenn., and the sense of outrage and hurt in African American communities led to rioting in more than 100 U.S. cities. Boston might have joined that list except for the heroics of Brown.

The R&B superstar was scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden arena, though civic officials were considering canceling the concert, fearful that it would turn into a disturbance. But a black city councilman convinced Boston's white mayor, Kevin White, that the concert would have a positive effect, and White and others persuaded a local television station to broadcast the concert live.

One of the three discs in the new DVD set, “I Got the Feelin': James Brown in the '60s," focuses on the events of that day, including highlights from the show and interviews with several of the city officials involved. One of the other discs presents the full Boston concert, while the third disc is built around a Brown concert earlier that year at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater.

Because of personal and legal problems in Brown's later years, the singer's reputation was tarnished at the time of his death at age 73 in December 2006. This package, out today, not only reminds us of Brown's greatness as a musical figure but also celebrates one glittering display of his humanity.

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