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Don Cornelius Was One Cool Cat

"Armed with sharp suits and a mesmerizing voice, Don Cornelius set out in 1970 to entertain viewers of Chicago's WCIU with a song-and-dance TV show called Soul Train," USA Today reports. "Turns out, America wanted in on the party.

"Cornelius, 75, died Wednesday at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said."

Here's a collection of some of the best writing and reporting on Cornelius's life, death and legacy.


"Born on Chicago's South Side on Sept. 27, 1936, Mr. Cornelius had an early craving to go into broadcasting," the New York Times reports.

"He graduated from DuSable High School in 1954, did a stint in the Marine Corps and then returned to Chicago to marry a childhood sweetheart, Delores Harrison. They had two sons, Anthony and Raymond, who are among his survivors.

"In 1966, he gave up a career selling insurance and cars to take a three-month broadcast course, despite having young children to feed. With his deep baritone, he landed a job as a substitute disc jockey at WVON in Chicago and later as a sports anchor on the television program 'A Black's View of the News.' He produced the Soul Train pilot with $400 of his own money, taking the title from a road show he had created for local high schools.

"'Soul Train was developed as a radio show on television,' Mr. Cornelius told The New York Times in 1995. "It was the radio show that I always wanted and never had. I selected the music, and still do, by simply seeing what had chart success."

"He said the show was originally patterned on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, but with a focus on black music, fashion and dance. 'There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity,' he told The Associated Press in 2006. 'I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.'"


"Soul Train became the longest-running nationally syndicated show in history, airing from 1971 through 2006 becoming a staple in many Blacks homes, but more importantly breaking color barriers when it came to determining good music - not just acceptable music for Blacks," Popular Critic writes.

"Cornelius held down the hosting duties for most of that run before stepping away in 1993. He remained as the program's executive producer and expanded the brand into an annual awards show. The awards returned to the air in 2009 after a two-year hiatus.

"'I have known him since I was 19 years old and James Brown had me speak on Soul Train,' Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. 'We have maintained a friendship for the last 38 years. He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level. Had it not been for Don Cornelius we would not have ever transcended from the Chitlin circuit to become mainstream cultural trendsetters.'"


"When this proud city welcomed back hometown hero Don Cornelius last year, it wasn't just Chicago-style - it was Soul Train style, complete with Afro wigs, bell bottoms and hip-shaking in the streets," AP reports.

"The 40th anniversary celebrations for Soul Train traced a remarkable journey for a former Chicago police officer who got his start in broadcasting when he pulled over a radio executive in a traffic stop and then had to build up his pioneering show one step at a time . . .

"While the South Side native and his show left Chicago decades ago for Los Angeles, his legacy has lived on here - in the 'Don Cornelius Way' street sign west of downtown, in the teens and performers who boogied onstage during the early days of Soul Train and in the audiences who were glued to their televisions every Saturday to see the newest dance moves and styles.

"To television viewers - especially those in Chicago - Cornelius was the epitome of cool. An impeccably dressed cat whose voice was as smooth as his demeanor and who rubbed elbows with the biggest stars in music and the most promising up-and-comers.

"Which is why Chicago Ald. Walter Burnett says it was so much fun to see Cornelius let his guard down last year when the city gave him an honorary street sign.

"'Don was just in rare form,' said Burnett, whose ward the sign is in. 'He just wanted to talk and talk and talk . . . He broke down because he was with his friends.'

"The sign is outside the studios of WCIU-TV, where Soul Train got its start in 1970. It began as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006."


"At our house, Soul Train was must-see TV because it was one of the only TV shows where you could count on seeing brown faces," Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News writes.

"Negroes, as we were called back then, would be dressed to the nines, wearing the hottest street fashions, huge afros, hot pants, wide-brimmed hats, platform shoes and maxi coats. Good thing fire never broke out in the Soul Train studio, because there would have been a polyester meltdown.

"For me, a black girl with practically no rhythm, Soul Train was my classroom, helping me navigate the social minefield of high school dances.

"On Saturdays, I'd study the Soul Train dancers and try my best to mimic their moves. With my siblings, in front of our old TV, you couldn't tell me I wasn't hip, as we'd bounce around doing the Click Clacks, the Shaft or Son of Shaft dances. If I had any edge at all as a teenager, I owe every bit of to Don Cornelius.

"Cornelius was one cool cat."


"Friends of Don Cornelius say the legendary creator of the long-running television show Soul Train was dealing with significant 'demons,'' and while they are saddened by his death, they say they aren't surprised he took his own life with a gunshot to the head," the Daily Beast reports.

"'Don was always a smart man, but in recent years he'd made a lot of poor choices in business and in his relationships with women,' said one friend of 30 years. 'He was swayed by a few people to invest in projects that didn't pan out and the last marriage in many ways destroyed his mind, heart and his soul. He was never the same after that marriage.'

"Some close to the smooth-voiced television host described a man hurt and distraught by bad business decisions, poor health, and an ugly divorce that took hundreds of thousands of dollars from his children and other family members."


The Hippest Trip in America.


See also:
* The 10 Best Soul Train Line Dances.
* The Soul Train YouTube channel.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 2, 2012

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