Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don Cornelius of "Soul Train" - RIP

This morning at 4am Don Cornelius, the creator of the iconic music and dance series "Soul Train" apparently took his own life in Sherman Oaks, California. Health issues and a recent bitter divorce battle are getting the early blame for the suicide. It is difficult to understand the pain that one must suffer from in order to take their own life.

"Soul Train" (the title of which was narrated in a style that had the voiceover coming to a slow stop at a train station) ran for 22 years beginning back in 1971. At the time of its premiere I was a kid. As the decade progressed I would find myself watching Dick Clark's American Bandstand and then follow that up with Soul Train. Keep in mind, I came of age in Chicago and our winters were cold (well, not this year) and after our morning chores we would often spend early Saturday afternoons watching television. It was a simpler time and it is virtually impossible to describe our lifestyles to young people today. We actually played outside. We rode our bikes, we took long walks, we laid on the ground and watched the stars, we caught fireflies (with holes in the cans, so they could breathe), we built snowmen and igloos. We had no smart phones, no computers, no iPods, iPads or anything else that is deemed as technology. We had two television sets, two telephones (that were attached to the wall), four radios and a transistor (go and look it up).

After rolling out of bed on a Saturday in January, I would do my chores, watch a bad B movie (I loved "The Killer Shrews"), American Bandstand and Soul Train. If I have secluded a secret in my life it is that I love to dance and I dance often, but back in the 1970's I loved Led Zeppelin and the Eagles too. I rarely danced in public outside of the weddings that I seemingly went to on an almost monthly basis. To this day, I dance and I dance often. I will put on McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" or "Stomp" by the Brothers Johnson and move to the groove.

I didn't want to miss "Soul Train." I had the opportunity to see some of the best acts of the era and watch some of the best dancing in all of television history. By and large, the dancers on "Soul Train" weren't professional dancers, so you thought "I could try that move."

My older sister was already out of the house living on her own at this point, but she'd find herself visiting the family house on Saturdays and we'd watch together. I have some wonderful memories of this innovative show. About six years ago, a friend of mine from ABC and I were having dinner at Giorgio Baldi's in Santa Monica and in walked Don Cornelius with some woman young enough to be his granddaughter. When you live and work in Los Angeles this sight is never particularly surprising, but I looked at him and thought I bet I am the only person in this room who recognizes him. As we were departing, I simply walked past his table (I certainly wasn't going to say anything to him, since the guy was eating dinner and my intensely private friend from ABC would have been embarrassed) and left the following note written on a napkin on the side of the table. It read "Thanks Mr. Cornelius. I loved Soul Traaaaaaaain!

Thanks for the music. Thanks for the peace, love and soul.

The clip below showcases some of the giants of the music industry that appeared on Soul Train. A truly stunning roster of talent.


Jane said...

What a lovely memorial to the man who created a ground breaking and revolutionary television show. He will truly be remembered and missed dancers like yourself by lovers of R&B and by the giants of the music industry.

Sharon said...

I did the same, morning cartoons while doing saturday chores...watching Bandstand then switching to Soul Train...sad.

Lisa said...

Judith, not only do you do Mr. Cornelius proud by those wonderful personal memories, but what a lovely gesture it was to have left that message on the napkin. Your remembrance posts are always so real and touching.

I am sure that most of us, even those who didn't necessarily regularly watch his show (like me), have the theme song etched into our brains. It does bring up terrific youthful memories!