1st reel of legendary James Brown concert returned to ‘GBH

James Brown performing at the Boston Garden in 1968.

The Media Library and Archives has long been in possession 2nd and 3rd reel of the 1968 James Brown concert, an event credited with keeping the peace after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t until a few months ago that members of our stock sales team discovered that the original 2inch videotape of the first hour of the concert, missing all these years, was in storage with the James Brown Estate. As part of the licensing agreement for the upcoming documentary on James Brown, the stock sales team negotiated the deposit of a preservation quality digital surrogate into the WGBH Archives.

To share this recent discovery with other WGBH staff, the MLA arranged for a screening of the “lost reel.” Employees took time out of their busy schedules to relive a famous night in Boston history. The screening included the best of the “lost” first reel, which had lots of technical sound difficulties. This included a rare performance of Brown singing “If I Ruled the World” and James Brown addressing the audience in a unique moment. In addition, a second James Brown performance of “Going to Kansas City,” as well as powerful words from Brown, City Councilor Thomas Atkins, and Mayor Kevin White screened from the later reels.

One of the employees who attended was WGBH Jazz Gallery’s Al Davis, who was at the concert in 1968. Davis was kind enough to get up and share a few words with his fellow employees. He spoke of how his mother wasn’t sure she should let him go to the concert. He was ultimately allowed to go and headed down to the Boston Garden on the Orange Line. The event was very meaningful to him, especially since James Brown was such an important mentor to young black students at the time. Davis also recounted how under the urging of James Brown and others the crowd truly did remain peaceful after the concert.

You can watch clips from the concert, like this part of James Brown’s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.