by Rick Bretz
On this day, May 31st, 1879, Madison Square Garden opened in New York City at 4, Pennsylvania Plaza. Yes, that’s right, 1879. That’s the age of the venerable building indirectly named after the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, because the building was constructed inside Madison Square. The Garden officially seats 18, 200 people but has fit more and has been the location of many historical events.
Here are some of the most remembered events that occurred in Madison Square Garden.
1. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s benefit concerts for Bangladesh-August 1, 1971. He had Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Billy Preston there to help him out.
2. The Democratic National Conventions-1924, 1976, 1980, 1992. Politics in New York City? Boss Tweed would have never stood for it!
3. Former Republican Presidential Candidate, Wendell Willkie, leads 20,000 African-Americans in 1943, as the group organized a civil rights rally at the Garden, the largest of its kind for the time. He called for equal rights and for the defeat of Hitler. Despite the democratic message of today, republicans are champions of equal rights.
4. The Fight of the Century-Challenger Mohammed Ali and Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier meet at the Garden for a boxing match on March 8, 1971. Frazier wins by unanimous decision. The second Ali-Frazier fight happens at the Garden three years later in 1974, when Ali wins by decision. The best fights of all time are between these two. Joe Louis fought at the Garden too but these two were warriors.
5. 1898-Nikola Tesla demonstrates the first remote control robot by using radio control hardware. Further proof Tesla was way ahead of everyone else.
6. May 19th, 1962. President John F. Kennedy’s 42nd birthday party celebration is held at the Garden. Marilyn Monroe sings the famous “Happy Birthday Mr. President” song. Every man deserves to be serenated Happy Birthday just like that.. It doesn’t even have to be at the Garden and the title could be “Mr. Guy that works all day at his job down the street.”
7. June 17, 1978 Bob Marley performs at MSG and increases awareness in America for reggae music. In 1980 he performs two shows again the Garden. Days later Marley collapses due to the spreading cancer in his body. He dies on May 11, 1980. The great Bob Marley’s last words were to his son Ziggy, “Money can’t buy life.”
8. 1973, Led Zeppelin performs three consecutive sold out performances that are recorded on both film and recording tape. A concert film is later released called, “The Song Remains The Same.” This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band is one of the best-selling groups of all time.
There are many more performances that span the entertainment, political and social worlds. The list of entertainers who have performed at MSG is a hall of fame for musicians and singers. Ricky Nelson even wrote a song about it called “Garden Party”, which is a song about performing there with his fellow fifties greats.