don cornelius died early wednesday of an apparent suicide. cornelius was a cultural icon who executive produced & hosted soul train, the popular television show which lessened racial barriers & nationalized black culture. soul train revolutionized dance, fashion & music in its own unique way. long before video music box, mtv, vh1 & bet, there was soul train.
officers responding to a report of a shooting found cornelius at his mulholland drive home around 4:00 am, police said. he was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said los angeles county assistant chief coroner ed winter. he was 75.
"i am shocked & deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague & business partner don cornelius. don was a visionary pioneer & a giant in our business. before mtv there was soul train, that will be the great legacy of don cornelius. his contributions to television, music & our culture as a whole will never be matched. my heart goes out to don's family & loved ones," said quincy jones.
the rev. al sharpton said he was shocked & grief-stricken. "i have known him since i was 19 years old & james brown had me speak on soul train, "the civil rights activist said in a statement from new york. sharpton continued, "he brought soul music & dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown & he was a cultural game changer on a global level."
soul train began in 1970 as a local program in a small studio in chicago, hosted by clinton ghent. the show moved to los angeles a year later & aired nationally until 2006. soul train introduced television audiences to such legendary artists as james brown, aretha franklin, marvn gaye, the jackson five, gladys knight & the pips, diana ross & stevie wonder.
soul train was one of the first shows to showcase african-americans prominently, bringing the best r&b, soul & later, hip hop acts to television. in a 2006 interview with the associated press cornelius said, "there was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity. i'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them."
the show was well-known for its trademark opening of an animated chugging train. but it was not, however, an immediate success for cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble & cool persona. only a handful of stations initially were receptive. said cornelius, "when we rolled it out, there were only eight takers. which was somewhere between a little disappointing & a whole lot disappointing."
what exactly were some of the reasons given for television stations not willing to pick up the show? cornelius continued, "there was just, we don't want it. we pass," he said, with race going unmentioned. "no one was blatant enough to say that."
the growing audience reaction, coupled with the high-powered talent from the show attracted people from all walks of life. soul train eventually began to feature popular white artists like david bowie, elton john, teena marie, gino vanelli & the average white band. ironically, cornelius admitted he was no fan of rap. yet he welcomed artists like kurtis blow, ll cool j, public enemy, run d-m-c & grandmaster flash & the furious five.
soul train always featured a dance line, the highlight of each production. teens pranced & strutted their way between two lines of dancers awaiting their time to shine. today, the soul train dance line is a part of american culture. barbeques, family reunions, house parties & wedding anniversaries are just some of the events where a soul train dance line will transcend age, class, faith & race.
cornelius was inducted into the broadcasting & cable hall of fame in 1995. he also has a star on the hollywood walk of fame. cornelius remained grateful to the musicians who made soul train their destination for the best in black music. he said, "i figured as long as the music stayed hot & important & good, that there would always be a reason for soul train."
in 1993 cornelius stepped down as host of soul train. the series spawned a franchise which includes the soul train music awards, the soul train lady of soul awards & the soul train christmas starfest. the awards returned to the air in 2009 after a two-year hiatus. last year's awards were held november 27, with earth, wind & fire receiving the legend award.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.