I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer. — The Telegraph, 2009
He was both the host and the ambassador for generations of artists, dancers, and music lovers. He was a journalist and an activist. And he was the conductor of “the hippest trip in America.”
Wednesday, everyone who ever listened to him wish viewers “love, peace, and soul” mourned the death of Don Cornelius, who was found in his home by police after apparently committing suicide.
Cornelius developed and hosted Soul Train, the kind of show that makes words like “influential” seem small. Soul Train ran for 35 years, making it the longest first-run syndicated show in history. But the show almost didn’t grow out of being a successful local program on WCIU-TV in Chicago.
I really enjoyed VH1’s short documentary on the history of Soul Train, but the icing on the cake was definitely the archive of retro commercials. The ones for Afrosheen – especially where they use an appeal to black history – are hilarious.
Best Afrosheen line ever: “Isn’t it made with cocoa butter from the motherland? So it’s for sisters! If it was for brothers, wouldn’t it be from the Fatherland?”
Afrosheen will even help you fight a cartoon hawk!
Few television series were as innovative and influential as Soul Train. Set first in Chicago, and later in Los Angeles, the Soul Train dance party reached national significance and became the longest running syndicated show in television history. In commemoration of its 40th anniversary, Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America is a 90 minute documentary celebrating the show’s many contributions to pop culture, music, dance and fashion. From 1970-2006 the series offered a window into the history of Black music, and its charismatic host, Don Cornelius was The Man responsible for a new era in Black expression. A trained journalist, Don created a media empire that provided an outlet for record labels and advertisers to reach a new generation of music fans. As the epitome of cool, many of his expressions entered the popular American lexicon: “A groove that will make you move real smooth,” “Wishing you Peace, Love and Soul!” The documentary will feature performances and great moments from the show, as well as behind-the-scene stories and memories from the cast and crew. In addition, popular musicians, comics and actors of yesterday and today will comment on growing up with the show and will share their stories of how Soul Train affected their own lives.
Soul Train was an unapologetically black space within the landscape of television. (This doesn’t mean other races/ethnicities were excluded, but more on that later.) Don Cornelius used to say that he felt black media (and by extension, Soul Train) should be “ethnic, ethical, and excellent.”
That small concept was fascinating.
What does it mean to have ethnic media?
What does it mean for that media to be ethical?
And how do those two factors work along with excellence?
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World