By Deborah A. Culp
Don Cornelius was and has been a household name for decades and will continue to be, for as long as time goes on. Even those too young to remember him, or tuning in to the number one Line Dancing craze:” The Soul Train Line”, can benefit from his legacy.
The recent announcement of his demise, allegedly by his own hands was traumatic at best. I for one, felt like I’d lost a brother, a close family member that I did know from the start being a seasoned woman – “ahem”… and a music connoisseur as well.
The program ran for years and amid the colorful Afro hair-do’s, vast tapestry of clothes, tantalizing attitude and air of sheer from the “Soul Train Dancers”, even those most lethargic would manage to tap their feet to the beats, if nothing else!
Once I heard the news of his death, I stopped in my tracks, made several calls to verify this and of course, got online to fact check and nose around. According to ABC News (my first source of fact checking) Cornelius, 75, was plagued by health problems in the last three decades of his life. He underwent a 21-hour operation in 1982 to correct a congenital malformation in blood vessels in his brain.
But Cornelius’ lasting legacy is his impact on diversifying pop culture and giving rise to a hugely influential group of black performers. Before MTV there was “Soul Train” and Don Cornelius. Cornelius created “Soul Train” and hosted the show in national syndication from 1971 to 1993. It was the first real venue on American TV for soul music, and as the show’s writer, producer, and emcee, Cornelius played a vital part in bringing stars like James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to a wider audience.
He was known for the catchphrase with which he closed each episode: “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” And the ever famous “It’s a stone cold Gas Honey.”
Cornelius’ colleagues have been quick to commemorate him. Aretha Franklin-“The Queen of Soul” who was shot to fame in part because of “Soul Train,” released a statement calling Cornelius’ death “sad, stunning, and downright shocking … a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large.” He will be missed, but definitely not forgotten – certainly not by me. –DAC-