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Love, Peace, and Soul: Don Cornelius and the Enduring Legacy of Soul Train
The Best Part of a Saturday
I don't know about you but before TRL entered my life, there was only one show that I would race to watch during the week that was not a part of TGIF. Saturdays were reserved for three things: cleaning the house (boo!), eating fish and seafood (yum!), and watching our favorite show as a family, Soul Train.
I was not around during the glory days of Soul Train in the 1970s but in the 1990s it was still on the air and we made a point to tune in every Saturday at noon after the obligatory cleaning duties.
By the time I was old enough to remember, Soul Train was hosted by a series of guest hosts including the wonderfully handsome and rhythmically challenged Shamar Moore (sorry but it's true, Agent Morgan) and comic Mystro Clark. However, none of the new school hosts held a candle to the late, great Don Cornelius.
If you do not know what Swagger is, please YouTube or order the Time Life Soul Train DVD collection. Don Cornelius essentially defined Swagger by giving us great music and fun times with some of the most inspiring and iconic figures of black music.
As we all know, Don Cornelius was recently found dead of an apparent suicide. But no matter how he died, what he gave us while he was alive is more than enough to fill us with laughter and joy.
In honor of Mr. Cornelius, I would like to dedicate this hub to him and everyone who brought Soul Train to us at the end of a long week.
Don Cornelius' Early Life and Career.
Don Cornelius was an enterprising young man growing up in Chicago with a deep voice and a big dream. Initially he entered several industries hoping to make it big. He started off selling insurance and as a police officer. However, he found his way and decided on going to broadcasting school.
In the mid-sixties he was an a substitute DJ for a Chicago radio station but soon made the transition to television as a evening news' sports anchor. But in 1969, he decided take a mere $400 and make a dream a reality.
His vision included a show that would include artists' and performers who spoke to the Baby Boomer generation. This show would not only speak to Baby Boomers but also the ensuing generations to follow.
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The Hippest Trip in America
Inspired by the world's oldest living teenager, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius set out to create his own version of American Bandstand. He wanted the latest and greatest acts in Soul and R&B music as well as young people dancing and showing off the newest fashion trends, hairstyles, and dances.
Soul Train debuted on August 17, 1970 and was an instant hit in Cornelius's hometown of Chicago on Saturday mornings. Teens and tweens alike were fascinated with this show that focused on Black American music and culture.
In 1971, it became nationally syndicated and became all the rage as established music superstars stopped by the show. But what Soul Train was truly known for was giving Americans a taste of young up and coming artists who otherwise would not have a national platform.
And for the following 35 years, Soul Train gave us many great memories and iconic ways of celebrating life.
The Soul Train Line: If you don't know what the Soul Train Line is, let me explain it to you. It is quite possibly one of the best television trademarks of all time. Essentially two lines of people face each other while one or two people boogie down the line. The two lines keep rhythm to the song while the highlighted person or couple breaks it down. One wrong move will make you a joke while all the right moves will make you superstar.
Future Superstars: Like any great entertainment showcase, Soul Train had a niche for discovering talent. The members of R&B group Shalamar, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel, met on Soul Train and were put together along with a lead singer to form the group. Accomplished actress and dancer, Rosie Perez began her career as a dancer on the program in the 1980s. If you watch closely, you can see her in some reruns. Other famous dancers include Fred "Rerun" Berry from the classic sitcom "What's Happening?"
Theme Song: "The Sound of Philadelphia" sung by Gamble and Huff outfit MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) featuring vocals by The Three Degrees is the most recognizable theme of the series. The song became a hit and was #1 for two weeks in 1974.
Soul Train Awards and Celebrations: The Soul Train Music Awards have aired every year since 1987 with the exception of 2008. The Lady of Soul Awards specifically honored women and the Christmas Starfest had noted artists performing Christmas classics and new hits but were discontinued in 2006 coinciding with the end of new episodes in syndication.
Soul Train Scramble: This game is among one of the premiere trivia games on television. The host gives a clue about a prominent or notable figure and a couple has one minute to move the scrambled letters into the person's name.
As the 1970s ended and the 1980s progressed, Soul Train was trying desperately to hold on to its influence in American popular culture. However, one genre that had started in New York presented itself to be a problem for Don Cornelius.
Hip-Hop gained mainstream attention in 1979 with the monster hit by Sugarhill Gang "Rapper's Delight" and while it was catching on everywhere else, Cornelius admitted in the 2009 VH1 documentary, that he was reluctant to take notice. He thought hip-hop was a fad and decidedly tried not to host rappers and rap groups.
The audience took notice and quickly demanded otherwise. Cornelius eventually relented and invited many groundbreaking hip-hop acts such as The Fat Boys, Run DMC, and Heavy D.
But as the 1990s dawned, the musical and cultural landscape changed even more to incorporate gangster rap and finally Don Cornelius came to a tough decision.
In 1993, he stepped down from hosting duties while still maintaining rights as executive producer of the show. Guest hosts soon followed but as the twenty first century dawned more problems arose for Soul Train.
The distributor of Soul Train halted production indefinitely in 2006 and for two years after, they released the Best of Soul Train collection. Now select reruns play across various channels.
Don Cornelius also ran into a string of problems as his health and marriage began to fail in the mid to late 2000s. During a bitter divorce from wife Viktoria in 2010, he mentioned wanting to settle before he passed. After suffering a stroke among other ailments, Cornelius retreated from the public only making an appearance in 2009 on the BET Awards to honor longtime Soul Train supporters, The O'Jays.
On February 1, 2012 we sadly learned that Don Cornelius committed suicide at the age of 75. He is survived by two sons Anthony and Raymond.
While Don Cornelius may have died, his innovative and insightful contribution to popular culture lives on in reruns and other programs that carried the torch of Love, Peace, and Soul.
All Over The World
Soul Train and Don Cornelius live on through are memories but there were and are shows that were directly influenced by the Midas Touch of his creative genius.
TRL 1998-2008: Even though Carson Daly tried to be Dick Clark, it is also obvious that TRL was influenced by Soul Train. Uniting young millenials through music, dance, and culture it was an instant phenomenon. It also became known for debuting then unknown acts like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.
BET's 106 & Park 2000-Present: At the time of it's debut, it was considered the urban answer to TRL but it also took several cues from Soul Train. 106 & Park debuts the latest fashions and dances from across the country.
As said before, we have great memories to cherish because of Don Cornelius but more importantly he helped us see how music makes us more alike than anything and as long as we celebrate togetherness, nothing else can destroy the memories created.
In parting I am wishing you Hub love, peace, and soul!
- Update: Don Cornelius Dead From Apparent Suicide (Official Statements) | www.vibe.com
Statement from friends and business associates affiliated with Cornelius and Soul Train.
- Don Cornelius Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com
Go behind the music with Biography.com to learn more about television icon Don Cornelius, creator and host of the long-running music television show Soul Train.