On February 1, 2012, I decided to chill out on my day off. My weeks are typically hectic and I don't spend a lot of idle time doing nothing, but that day, I was a little tired and wanted to kick back. I watched all of the typical daytime shows, People's Court, America's Court, Judge Mathis, etc., but later in the day, I checked out some old Soul Train episodes that come on on the new Bounce TV. It brought back so many pleasant memories from my childhood.
I thought of my aunts and uncles who were the same age as some of the dancers that were on Soul Train and I remembered my late aunt Ceil who used to get so exited when Soul Train came on. She's dance in front of the television--getting everyone in the family going with her moves and excitement. She died at the age of 54 from bone cancer in 2007. There have been other family members that have passed away in the last 8 years, and watching Soul Train that morning, made me remember them when they were young. That was their generation.
What made Soul Train so special was the dancing, yes, but really, it was about Black people: how we danced, dressed and basically, how we GOT DOWN. Dancing was how we related to one another and the originality and innovation that was displayed on Soul Train was a representation of our creativity as a people.
Don Cornelius, the shows creator, producer and host, basically wanted to create a show that was for Black people at a time when you didn't see a lot of Black folks on television. To understand Don, you have to know where he came from and what he did before Soul Train. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on September 27, 1936. Graduated from DuSable High School in Chicago, Illinois, in 1954. He joined the United States Marine Corps and served 18 months in Korea.
Before he was a television host, he did everything from announcer to news reporter to disc jockey.
He was discovered by WVON Radio personality Ed Cobb. In the mid-1960s, Cobb while driving ran a traffic violation and was pulled over by Chicago Police officer Don Cornelius. While officer Cornelius was asking him the typical traffic stop questions, Cobb noticed his unique speaking voice and told him that he was in the wrong profession. Cobb suggested that Cornelius come down to the radio station and make a demo tape. Don took him up on it and was hired as an announcer.
He used $400 of his money to produced and create "Soul Train" (1971), which was an African-American dance program. Hosted "Soul Train" (1971) for 22 of the shows 35 years. In that time, he introduced many unfamiliar artists to a larger audience who would go on to become even more successful, among them are: Gladys Knight (his first guest), Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Barry White, Melba Moore, Al Green, Donna Summer and Mariah Carey.
What I remember about Don basically is that he represented what he hosted: Black pride. Black dignity and Black power. That deep voice. So cool and collected. He was the epitome of a strong Black man and that is what I will cherish most.
My Saturday mornings were special because of this man's vision. I enjoyed watching Soul train and when I learned of his death (suicide); it literally ruined my day. It hurt. We've lost so many greats in the last 25 years and Don's passing was sort of the ax in the stump.
He will be missed.
I don't know what was going through his mind when he made the choice to end his life, but if I could talk to him, I'd tell him that when Black people remember him--they remember our culture when it really felt good to be Black.
RIP Don Cornelius.
Love. Peace. And Sooooouuuuullll.