You know what the shittiest thing about getting older is? Watching people who were an integral part of your life go away. Don Cornelius, entertainment mogul and host of the entertainment series “Soul Train” and it’s various offshoots for over 20 years (and executive producer for it’s entire run of nearly forty years), passed away earlier this morning. He was 75.
Starting off as a Chicago-area air personality, Cornelius is as responsible as anyone for the infiltration of black music and style into Middle America. Nationally broadcast since 1971 and continuing through the early ’00s, “Soul Train” was the be-all, end-all for R&B, funk, soul, jazz and hip-hop until BET became prominent in homes in the late Eighties (it can be argued that MTV didn’t truly catch up to black music until the mid-Nineties.) That deep voice was more familiar to me than the voices of some of my own relatives, and despite the fact that his interviewing style lent itself well to jokes, he was the personification of smooth, from his sharp suits to his classic introductions (“the mighty, MIGHTY O-JAYS!!!”)
Growing up, there was barely a Saturday morning or afternoon that went by that I wasn’t parked in front of the TV watching “Soul Train.” It was as much of a routine as pouring a bowl of cereal. While I’m not old enough to remember the glory days of the show in the Seventies, I can certainly remember a good 12-15 year chunk of episodes featuring performances from the best and brightest in soul music–from Shalamar (who he helped discover and cultivate) to New Edition to DeBarge to Run-DMC. Hell, the very first time I saw Prince on TV, it was on “Soul Train.” I was very confused. But that’s another story for another day.
In addition to the music, Cornelius deserves credit as a trailblazing mogul, setting the tone for what entrepreneurs from Diddy to Jay-Z do today. He also stands as an important figure in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement. “Soul Train” exposed much of Middle America to black music, black fashion, black dances, black hairstyles and it did so during a time when there was still a lot of unrest. Don did much to make people of color less exotic to folks who didn’t encounter us on a day-to-day basis.
Don deserves props for any number of reasons, and I’m sure many friends and artists who received exposure as a result of Don’s efforts will take to the internet and the radio to express their condolences.
In parting, I wish you love, peace and soul. Rest in power, Mr. Cornelius.
Incoming search terms:
- DON CORNELIUS JOKES