Don Cornelius Thank You For Fostering My Love Of Soul Music

Billy Johnson, Jr.
Hip-Hop Media Training (NEW)

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As a 1970s and 1980s kid who loved music, I was a big fan of pre-MTV dance shows "American Bandstand," "Dance Fever," and "Solid Gold." But I was addicted to "Soul Train."

Wednesday's news of the tragic passing of "Soul Train" creator and original host Don Cornelius, who was only 75, hits me like a sucker punch.

It never bothered me when performers lip synced their songs. I was more intrigued to see the faces behind the music that I listened to on the radio and on my parents's collection of hundreds of soul albums that lined the coffee table our record player sat upon in our den.

Unlike rappers today, the R&B singers of the 1970s wore ornate costumes. I remember being glued to the TV just soaking up colorful images of Grace Jones, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire, and more when they visited.

Then, there was the dancing. The "Soul Train" dancers were also stars. They taught me how to do the bump, the robot, the rock, and the Robocop without the aid of a DVR or VCR to playback the moves.

I picked out the dancers whose styles I liked the most, and I sat and watched and mimicked them. Kids at the school dances were always surprised at how well this shy, quiet boy could get down.

I could not wait for the "Soul Train Line." The men and women faced off in parallel lines. The couple at the top moved into the center and danced down the aisle as those waiting their turn clapped and rocked from side to side. It was like a rite of passage it was so good, especially when they prepared routines that included jumping off of the stage or doing the splits.

The show even included a black history game show element called the "Soul Train Scramble Board." Cornelius would bring a couple to the front of a blackboard-like easel that had random letters scattered about. He would give them a clue and wait for them to unscramble the letters to reveal the answer.

Don Cornelius was cool. He was never giddy when interviewing the artists after they performed. His on camera disposition was even, but respectful and professional. His afro was always perfectly shaped, and he dressed immaculately. He looked as if he had just walked off of the set of a blaxploitation classic like "Shaft," "Foxy Brown," or "The Mack."

I watched the show religiously every Saturday even while I was in college.

The show wasn't the same after Cornelius stepped down as the host in 1993, replaced by a revolving door of alternates, who failed to bring the same energy.

But "Soul Train"'s legacy remained intact, earning the distinction as one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history.

In 1987, Cornelius launched the successful "Soul Train Awards" franchise that returned to production in recent years on BET's Centric channel. In 1995, he introduced the "Lady Of Soul Awards."

The 2010 documentary, "Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America," was nominated for an Emmy.

I know there is more to happiness than success and accomplishments, but Cornelius's were so great that I'm saddened to consider the reports that he took own life.

Aretha Franklin paid him a high honor when she learned of his death. "With the inception of 'Soul Train,' a young, progressive brother set the pace and worldwide standard for young aspiring African American men and entrepreneurs in TV—out of Chicago," she said in a statement. "He transcended cultural barriers among young adults. They became one. Everybody loved 'Soul Train' and appreciated Don!"

I've read many posts today that referenced the show's signature closing. Cornelius and the dancers would face the camera, smile, and wish all of us at home, "Love. Peace. And Soul."

When they said "Soul," they motioned blowing a kiss to the audience. It was sincere, like a gesture you would extend to family.

R.I.P. Mr. Cornelius