Soul Train leaves the station….RIP Don Cornelius
Getting ready to run out this morning; too much on my plate. But as I scanned the news, it caught my eye that Don Cornelius, the heart and host of the American television program Soul Train passed on early this morning in a rather sad way. Police report that the 75 year old man died of a self-inflicted gun shot.
I know…this has nothing to do with alt. country, Americana…whatever that means, folk, blues or roots music.
For the thirty-five years that Soul Train was on the air, it was one of the most influential music vehicles for young African-Americans in particular, and a small look through the window into the culture for us lily white folks. Sometimes we loved what we saw and heard. Sometimes we didn’t get it.
Cornelius came to the show and Chicago’s WCIU because of his work on a rival station doing news and part time music DJ. He also ran some regional record hops and travelled around area high schools…calling it The Soul Train. (You youngsters can Google what record hops were if you want.) The TV program Soul Train was the descendant of Don’s own side job and two previous youth-oriented shows: Kiddie-a-Go-Go and Red, Hot and Blues.
The show debuted in 1970 and Don hosted until 1993 when he replaced himself, and ran it from the shadows, as his production company owned and syndicated it. The last episode was aired in 2006 but it lived on through deals with You Tube, DVDs from Time-Life, a partnership with cable’s BET and now with Bounce TV.
Pretty simple concept: play soul music, let kids dance to it. People watch it. Advertisers run commercials. Record companies use it to promote artists. Lots of money is made.
In the seventies and eighties the music presented was highly reflective of the culture, but as rap and hip hop entered the mainstream, Cornelius’ conservative tastes presented a problem for him. He wasn’t a fan and especially didn’t like seeing the dancing shift to something much more sexually-suggestive. It was a huge reason he decided to stop being the MC and host.
So what did Soul Train mean to me? In the seventies I’d sometimes enjoy watching it on Saturday, when it was televised in my home town. I liked a lot of that (what we now call “old school”) music: Chi-Lites, Emotions, Dramatics, O’Jays, Spinners, all the Philadelphia International artists, and much, much more. Yeah…I was mostly listening and playing the stuff we now call alt. country, but I liked this stuff too. The harmonies, the dancing, the kids, the fashion…all of it.
And you know that the music seeps into you like water trickling through a small crack in the wall. It’s a part of me. And of my generation. May not be missed, but it will be remembered. Rest in peace Don.