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Love, Peace, and Soul: Don Cornelius and the Enduring Legacy of Soul Train

Updated on August 24, 2012
Don Cornelius and Guest in 1987
Don Cornelius and Guest in 1987 | Source

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.



Soul Train Gang Gets Down!
Soul Train Gang Gets Down!

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.

Movin' and Groovin'
Movin' and Groovin'

Cultural Contributions

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.

Changing Times

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!

Comments

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    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Ron!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      The one thing I remember about Soul Train is the theme. So, you've got me sitting here humming it. Thanks a lot!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you Rastamermaid!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Brinafr3sh,

      Thanks for coming by and commenting! I agree Soul Train was a great party to watch for sure!

    • Brinafr3sh profile image

      Brinafr3sh 

      6 years ago from West Coast, United States

      Hi, This will always be known as one of the most memorable TV shows on the air. Soul Train is a party in and of itself, the host of the show was an innovator. Great read, thanks. Voted up.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I agree Express10, it was all about good times and good music! Thank you for coming by and commenting!

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 

      6 years ago from East Coast

      Awesome hub. Man, you are bringing back some GREAT memories. I would watch this without fail when it was still on the air. It was just people having fun and enjoying music.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you Flora for stopping by and commenting! I agree that Don Cornelius did a lot of for music and television.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      6 years ago

      This is a beautiful tribute to a talented man. soul Train was a great counterpart to american bandstand and one that was needed.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I agree NayNay! Thanks very much for coming by and commenting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks LL for coming, by commenting, and sharing!

    • NayNay2124 profile image

      NayNay2124 

      6 years ago

      Great tribute to great man. I grew up on Soul Train and I will truly miss Don Cornelius. He was one of the coolest guys ever. Very good job on this hub.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      As you stated so well, Don Cornelius was definitely the embodiment of swagger and class. Nicely written.

      Voted up and SHARED.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Martie,

      I would love if there was a similar program to come along. But I don't know when that will happen. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Besides news bulletins I seldom watch TV. But I will for sure watch Soul Train or a similar program if it ever comes my way.

      Voted up, well-written and enjoyable videos.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Ytsenoh,

      I loved watching Soul Train but unfortunately I came in on the later years after he left. I enjoy watching the 70s episodes with guests like Al Green. Thanks so much again and I have to agree that Agent Morgan is a great agent :)!

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 

      6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Oh my goodness, I love this hub. I watched Soul Train in the 70s when I was a kid. I was sad to learn of Don Cornelius' passing, but it pushed my memory buttons. I can still hear the name of the show ... SOuuuuul Train! Thumbs up on your hub. Sidenote: love that Agent Morgan.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Keli,

      I agree Soul Train reminds me of nothing but joy, laughter, music, and happiness. And I loved his catchprases. Nobody does it better. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    • Rastamermaid profile image

      Rastamermaid 

      6 years ago from Universe

      Good stuff Alecia,he was an awesome dude!

      I remember it so well,happy times it was when Soul Train was on. You could bet your last money,it's gonna be a stone blast honey!!

      RIP Don,take it easy!

      Respect!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Beth,

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting. I agree that the show gave us many great memories.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      6 years ago from Tennesee

      Alecia, this is the very best biography Hub I believe I have come across. Thank you so much for posting about Mr. Cornelius. I didn't watch him in the early days either but caught the syndicated reruns later on. Loved the show and it is delightful to read about his life.

      Voted up.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jen's Solitude,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I agree that it is shocking but I hope he is truly at peace now.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 

      6 years ago from Delaware

      Great job. As shocking as his suicide was perhaps his age (75) and being in bad health made Mr. Cornelius feel it was time to rest.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Pedrn44,

      I agree there's nothing like Soul Train. I'm glad they're showing reruns now. I hope his family is doing well also. And I was definitely an *NSYNC fan growing up too :). Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

    • pedrn44 profile image

      Sandi 

      6 years ago from Greenfield, Wisconsin

      I loved Soul Train, all the dancing and especially the great talent Don Cornelius showcased. I enjoyed reading this wonderful tribute to an entertainment icon and I was saddened to hear about his passing. Thanks for the NSYNC video, too. My daughters turned me into quite the groupie! Voted up. Thanks for SHARING.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Audra,

      Good Morning and thanks for dropping by!

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 

      6 years ago

      An Amazing tribute to a music pioneer...voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      MarshFish,

      Thank you so much for dropping by and expressing your thoughts. I hope as well we remember what he did while he was living than how how he died. I'm sure he intended it that way. Thanks again!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Joseph,

      I thoroughly enjoyed your tribute as well. I agree that his legacy will continue to endure. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you so much for stopping by, commenting, and sharing!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Sunshine,

      I couldn't agree more. I'm wishing the best for his family.

    • MarshFish profile image

      Marshall Fish 

      6 years ago

      Alecia,

      What a tremendous tribute hub you've written for Don Cornelius. I agree with Sunshine625, too. It's a sad ending to this American music and TV icon's life.

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 

      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Alecia for this tribute! Don is now resting and his legacy will be with us for a long time.

      LORD

    • Jennifer Essary profile image

      Jennifer Essary 

      6 years ago from Idaho

      Very informative! Thanks for sharing. Voted up, awesome, and shared.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      A very nice tribute to an American icon who taught many how to get their swagger. Such a sad ending to his life. RIP DC

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 

      6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Such a great tribute! Votes and shares!!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Weestro for dropping by and commenting! I wish the best for his family.

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      A great hub with great videos...Rip DC!

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