Don Cornelius, creator of the dance show “Soul Train,” was found dead at his home in Los Angeles early Wednesday in what appeared to be a suicide. He was 75.
Just the mention of Don Cornelius’ name transports me to the Saturday mornings of my youth spent glued to the tv to see who would be on Soul Train, dubbed “the hippest show in America.” And to me it was. The Jackson Five, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Marvin Gaye were just a few of the megastars who tore up the stage week after week.
In 1971, we didn’t know just how legendary this show would become or it’s influence on popular culture at the time. We had no idea that it would be one of the longest running syndicated shows in television history. We just knew that we had to see the show. The worst thing you could hear from someone would be, “You didn’t see the Isley Brothers? They were bad!” (At the time, “bad” meant really good.)
In those days when you missed a show, you missed a show. That was it. There was no TiVo, YouTube or anything even remotely like that, unless you had the time, know-how and equipment to record it on VHS tape (which usually only taped a part of it, or recorded another show entirely). Maybe there were reruns, but who cared–there was another new show with another great artist the next Saturday.
If you did miss a show you might have missed out on a dancer’s “bad” outfit or Michael Jackson introducing the moonwalk. When I say everybody was on the show, I mean everybody.
Soul Train showed us what to wear when we went out to the club Saturday night. It was the trendsetter, the center of black entertainment at the time. it was as much a fixture in my young life as the afro-sheen I put on my Afro. It epitomized the seventies from the funky train logo to Cornelius classic line at the end of the show, “Love, Peace and Sooooul!”
Coming out of the relatively serious mode of the sixties, the seventies were about partying. And party we did, all the time. Not just Saturday, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday some weeks.
We didn’t realize we were hearing some of the best music ever, seeing some of the best dancing ever, or taking part in a piece of black history that transformed the music industry before, MTV, VH1 or BET.
We didn’t know that we were part of an era that our children and grandchildren would emulate. We didn’t realize how special it all was. We just knew we were having fun and partying.
Don Cornelius’ death today revived that era. That the outfits and hair look crazy and we look at them with self-recognition (“I had a suit like that!”) is all a part of the joy of looking back. You can’t help but smile.
R.I.P. Don. Thanks for the memories.