George McGovern passed away recently and this reminded me of the time when he was campaigning for the Presidency in 1972 and came to Boston for a speech at Fenway Park. They asked me to round up some musicians to pay before McGovern took the stage. I grabbed this opportunity to get B.B. King onto the show. He had been playing lounges in Roxbury, a predominately black section of the city, and this would be a great way of helping him cross over to a larger audience.
Fenway Park held about 33,000 for baseball in those days but with seats set up on the field, it was over 40,000 with many more outside the park listening to the huge speakers set up outside the walls.
It was a beautiful night and I remember that B.B. played his recent hits (“Why I Sing the Blues,” “The Thrill is Gone”) and then started to come offstage after about 30 minutes. This was way before cell phones so communication was slow and awkward. Anyway, someone came running up and yelled “McGovern is running late. Keep the music going until he gets here.”
I ran to the front of the stage and yelled up to B.B. that he should keeping playing. Just keep going until I told him to stop. So B.B. started up again and he reached back into his repertoire and pulled songs out of his early recording years. I had heard them before but this audience was getting them for the first time. He did “Sweet Little Angel,” “You Upset Me, Babe,” “Three O’Clock in the Morning” and others from the distant past. He was really into his groove and the crowd was loving every bit of it.
McGovern finally arrived and they opened the big gates in center field for his motorcade to come into the park. I walked over to the visiting team’s dugout and took a seat.
I wish I could say that McGovern really fired up the crowd but this was not true. He delivered his standard stump speech about ending the war in Viet Nam, stop spending huge amounts of money waging war and use it for domestic programs for the poor, etc.
As he spoke, I realized that B.B. was standing a few feet away from me. He had his arms folded and he was listening intently. He genuinely wanted to know why this man wanted to be President.
It is an interesting memory. This black man from rural Mississippi and this white man from the plains of the Dakotas, just a few years apart in age, had come together in a Boston baseball park as one sought to become the President and the other one wanted to hear his reasons for wanting the job.