Soul Train Host Don Cornelius Takes His Own Life (RIP 2/1/12)

In tragic news, Soul Train creator and host from 1970-1993, Don Cornelius, has been found dead in his home in Sherman Oaks, California, reported succumbed to a self inflicted gun wound to the head.

Cornelius, 75, created and hosted Soul Train in 1970 while a journalist and DJ in Chicago. Within a year, he had production set up in LA and Soul Train was a nationally syndicated Saturday morning and after school dance show, featuring performances from local support like Sly & The Family Stone, and recording their pilot with Gladys Knight.

The show influenced the creation of music television, MTV notably, which launched 10 years after Soul Train’s debut, and to which the program moved to in the 90’s. Cornelius was proud to give an outlet for ethnic-influenced programming and opportunities for lesser-known black artists, amidst a monopolizing white agenda of most networks. By carving out a special niche with committed fans who grew with the music, Cornelius effectively ushered in the cult followings for dozens of funk and R&B artists who were still struggling for a mainstream break. In fact, the group Shalamar is said to have come together through dancing on the show. Young Michael Jackson adopted Shalamar dancer’s Jeffrey Daniels’ “backslide” step into the “moonwalk”, as well as the robot, and Madonna’s “vogue” dancing was actually called “waacking” in its Soul Train days. Dig Michael dancing in the 70’s undoubtedly influenced from Soul Train (the 1st clip is from him on the show):

When it came to getting down, you couldn’t find a better resource for the freshest, funkiest moves on the floor than good ol’ Don’s program. The show is an obvious influence in the breakdance culture that emerged from the late 70’s when funk songs began to be sampled in the first forms of hip hop. The dancers in the 70’s Soul Train, in particular, carried incredibly varied and imaginative steps. Just check out “BoogieLand” below:

Additionally, you couldn’t be on Soul Train without some fly duds! Just dig the butterfly collars, high-waisted bell bottoms, and platforms of the early 70’s with “Jungle Boogie” (below).

The influence has integrated into many social aspects of US celebrations, such as the very common “Soul Train lines” at weddings, BBQ’s, school dances and more, as a chance for every partygoer to express their unique zest for life through wild moves. Don Cornelius gave the American people a chance to embrace a colorful form of creativity and self-confidence, so vital to coming out of the struggles of the 60’s, when people needed their relief and joy back more than ever. That spirit continued to inspire generations, each finding their own relevant musical trends and styles through the program, helping to form a sense of identity to the youth of America. The show lasted til 2006, but continues to bring laughter, memories, and great ideas for the dancefloor to those who seek it out. As Don would always end his shows with an uplifting farewell, “You can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” You as well, Don. Thank you for the memories.
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