Happy Birthday to Don Cornelius

Guest Blogger: Ericka Blount Danois, author of Love, Peace, and Soulshares a few remembrances of Don Cornelius for an article on Spin.com.

This past summer was the first and last time I ever saw Don Cornelius in person. He was at the Expo 72 in Chicago, which featured an exhibition of rare photos and vintage footage fromSoul Train, the television show he produced for 35 years. The day before, the steely, still-smooth train operator (and former radio reporter at Chicago’s WVON) was impeccably turned out in all-black leather and alligator shoes, serving as a panelist at a screening of the VH1 Soul Train documentary, The Hippest Trip in America. He was in rare form. Sometimes, he was so blunt that audience members would visibly squirm, or the whole room would fall silent, unnerved by his honesty. He hurled playful expletives at his childhood friend Richard Steele, from Chicago public radio outlet WBEZ, who moderated the panel. Straight answers weren’t part of his repertoire. I was immediately impressed.

The Don Cornelius we knew from Soul Train was laid-back, the latest slang bobbing in the waves of his profoundly bass announcer’s voice, always showing the artists respect, asking good questions, giving a conversational, in-your-living-room style to his interviews. This Cornelius was irreverent. He was funny. He was someone who acted like he didn’t need to impress anyone and that he had nothing left to lose. And maybe that was just it…

Cornelius, sporting the hip clothing that became his signature, first made a name for himself and Soul Train on local Chicago television, by spotlighting ‘the city’s rich musical talent. The set was housed in a cramped room with a faulty air conditioner on the 43rd floor of the Chicago Board of Trade”; it was so hot that some of the local dancers would often get nauseous. This was where Cornelius, as the owner and conductor of the train, instituted his signature rolling sign-off: “Love, peace, and souuuul!” It was where many talented dancers became local celebrities and where live television taught Cornelius, the dancers, and the artists to get it right the first time.

Keep reading at Spin!

Love, Peace, and Soul tells the story of the television phenomenon known as Soul Train, a show created in the land of bell bottoms, afros, and soul power; a show that became the touchstone of the Baby Boomer generation. Don Cornelius, host and owner of the show, was one of the coolest cats on television. With his platform shoes, wide neckties, and mellifluous voice, he showed the world just how corny American Bandstand was in comparison. In 2012, fans were shocked to hear one of the most powerful men in the music and television business took his own life.

Love, Peace, and Soul is a celebratory, behind-the-scenes collection of anecdotes, stories, and reflections, from the people who were there, about the host, the show, and the power of black music and dance on television.

Music and television connoisseurs will enjoy the history of not just Soul Train, but of other shows, including Shindig!, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, and Graffiti Rock. Entrepreneurs will be interested in Cornelius’ humble beginnings with the local version of the show in Chicago, created with his own money. Fans will delight in the lively images and the quirky details. The first mass market book on Soul Train since Cornelius’s passing, this volume has something for everyone. Includes afterword by Gary Harris.




Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on September 27, 2013, in Film & TV, Music Industry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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