Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don Cornelius' 'Soul Train' legacy

The passing of famed “Soul Train” host/executive producer Don Cornelius of an alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound may overshadow his contributions to pop culture; however his influence on black culture and music should never be forgotten.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact Don Cornelius had on the music industry. Before MTV and You Tube, there was “Soul Train,” “the hippest trip in America.”

Everyone from The Jackson 5 to Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder to Aretha Franklin appeared on the show in the early years. It was the place for black artists to go to reach a national audience.

Cornelius began “Soul Train” in 1970 as a weekday afternoon dance party on Chicago TV. The show’s popularity attracted bigger sponsors which allowed it to become nationally syndicated.

For 35 years and 1,117 episodes “Soul Train” showed black audiences who the hottest acts were, what the latest fashion was and what the newest dance moves were.

For many black families the weekend didn’t start until “Soul Train” went off on Saturday mornings. Missing an episode meant being out of the loop and considered uncool.

Beyond giving a voice and face to black culture, “Soul Train” also bridged the gap between white pop artists and black audiences with early appearances from Elton John and David Bowie.

Changing music trends and declining ratings led to the show’s demise in the late ‘90s, however its influence lives on at every house party, prom and wedding that features a “Soul Train” line.

Cornelius’ influence lives on in networks like BET and Centric, and the inclusion and domination that black artists have on mainstream music.

In the words of the great Don Cornelius, “as always in parting we wish you love, peace and soul.”

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