RIP Don Cornelius 1936-2012

Posted: 2nd February 2012 by Dion in News, Obituaries
Tags: , ,

Donald Cortez “Don” Cornelius, the larger-than-life creator, producer and host of the iconic television show Soul Train, passed away from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 75.

Cornelius started the long running show in 1970 on local television in Chicago, and pulled strings to get performers like B.B. King and Curtis Mayfield on, before the show moved to LA in 1971, where it was syndicated until 2006.

Soul Train became a staple for many homes through the 1970s and ’80s, especially in the African-American community,  because it was the first show to prominently showcase black performers.

Regarded as the black alterative to the mainstream American Bandstand, Cornelius became the foil to Dick Clark,  doing what Clark had done fifteen years earlier with the early rock and roll acts. His smooth, sexy, deep voice became as recognizable as the show’s name and theme itself, welcoming viewers to “the hippest trip in America”.

Along with the huge success of showcasing the popular music acts of the time, Soul Train also pioneered various dance acts, having an interracial mix tear up the floor; eventually as many people were tuning in to see the famous bands and singers as were watching to learn the up-to-date dance moves for that week in particular.  The popularity of the Soul Train dancers grew until some were able to get their own projects off the ground elsewhere—the most successful of which were Rosie Perez, MC Hammer, and Fred Berry, who America later fell in love with as the character “Rerun” on the hit show What’s Happening!!

The dancing aspect of the show was so popular that the “Soul Train Dance Line” began, where the newest dancers showed off their latest moves, by dancing  down between two lines of performers. Also the “Soul Train Scramble Board” was developed, where dancers would unscramble the name of that week’s music performer.

As the show gained in popularity in the mid-seventies, acts such as the Jackson 5, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown (present with a 19-year-old manager from Harlem named Al Sharpton), Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, and scores of others graced the Soul Train stage. Then in 1975 the show crossed over, when Tower of Power, David Bowie and Elton John became the first major “white” acts to perform on the program.

Cornelius eventually retired in 1996, and the show ended its illustrious run in 2006. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.

Many details surrounding his death have not yet been released at the time of this writing.

So, in the immortal words of Mr. Cornelius himself, “Love, Peace and Soul.”