Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don Cornelius Rides His Soul Train Into Eternity

Don Cornelius created 'Soul Train,' now part of American folklore and entrenched into the pages of American History.

I was a young working musician in Chicago when Soul Train hit the airwaves. My friends, the Chicago, Brunswick Records soul singers, 'The Chi-lites.' were guests on Don Cornelius’ first Soul Train broadcast. I was also under contract with Brunswick, during those early days, but had no hit record that would land me on Don Cornelius' popular television show, which some credit with the idea of the music video. Many young artists were documented on tape for the first time by Don Cornelius productions.

Back then none of us could even imagine the legacy that Soul Train would build over the next three and a half decades, and the historical value, into which Don Cornelius would weave his legendary invention, a dance show. But like the rest of us, Don had troubles that would develop in his life that even his friends didn't know.

Yes, that little kid from the South Side of Chicago, who attended high school on South Wabash Ave. not far from the Brunswick Record Studio. Chicago was filled with music and had been since the days when the Mississippi River brought the earliest forms of jazz up from New Orleans into the Great Lakes area. Traveling on riverboats, jazz made its way into Chicago and evolved into a rich musical legacy that included soul music.

Don Cornelius
Don Cornelius became a legend among us who will never be forgotten. More than a star maker, he is one of those people who had an idea, which was the African American community's answer to American Bandstand, not that we had anything against Bandstand; we all loved Dick Clark, who tried to include us in his shows but the time had not come for our full participation. 

Don emerged when our time in history had arrived. He made us stars, letting us dance with his dancers who, in some cases, were no better than us, except for those on the line. Placing his unique and personal stamp on racial equality, Don Cornelius created Soul Train just when the Civil Rights Movement was giving way to Black Power and the Afro.

Martin Luther King & Malcolm X

American youngsters, black and white, were wrestling with identity and the meaning of all our nation had been through and was still going through--the death of Jim Crow laws; integration of America's schools; the Vietnam War; and the assassinations of our leaders--President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X.

Some of the the answers to these perplexing national and international issues came in the form of music and dance, brought to you by Don Cornelius Productions out of Chicago in 1970, until he moved his Soul Train to Los Angeles a couple of years later. Soul Train was the longest running syndicated television show in the history of television.

Maybe we took his presence for granted because we thought he'd always be with us. Like our rock, always steady, always here, he apparently decided when it was time for him to go. I am so sad that he left, especially under circumstances that must have been so painful for him that he could no longer tolerate them. Don Cornelius was there when we needed him to cheer us  up, make us smile, help us cut a step, but when he needed us, where were we? I'll always remember your voice, Don Cornelius. It sounded like warm honey. Wishing you peace, love and soul, Don!

Don Cornelius Died February 1, 2012. He was 75 years old.

          Don Cornelius Can't Dance

Editorial Review: For over 35 years, it was the premier showcase for the latest names in the world of black music.

(Left) Three-DVD set includes 50 performances from the archives, many of which have not been seen in more than 30 years--James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Commodores, Barry White, The Isley Brothers, Sly & the Family Stone, The Jackson 5, and many more--8 hours of classic soul, plus bonus interviews with founder Don Cornelius, Smokey Robinson, and others. (Right) MP3 download. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

I use my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to my life, including food, music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, feminism, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today’s post-racism era. The Association of American University Presses recognizes my award-winning book as a resource for understanding U.S. race relations. My book, Bigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's, features stories about life with my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, before and during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the Jim Crow south.

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