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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don Cornelius/1936-2012

Don CorneliusDon Cornelius’ “Soul Train” became the longest-running first-run nationally syndicated show in television history, bringing African American music and style to the world for 35 years. Cornelius started in the insurance business, then became a radio DJ and television news announcer and sportscaster.
Inspired by “American Bandstand,” he devised a similar program spotlighting black music and introduced it on the Chicago UHF station WCIU in 1970. It was syndicated in 1971, and Cornelius soon moved the production to Hollywood. Cornelius was the deep-voiced host, and in addition to major black artists the show also attracted such R&B-leaning rock performers as David Bowie and Robert Palmer.
Cornelius stopped hosting in 1993, and though “Soul Train” ceased production in 2006, its archives continue to circulate through YouTube, DVD sets and BET’s Centric channel

Soul Train Awards Show DebutsWith 15 minutes to go before air time for his spanking new awards show--the first Soul Train Awards--Don Cornelius was backstage Monday, struggling with his cummerbund and talking about "appropriateness."
"The time is right for this kind of show to get on the air and stay there," Cornelius, the program's executive producer, said as an aide straightened his tux. "There's an enormous global audience for what is called 'black music' out there now, and I felt it was time they got some attention. It's appropriate now
Appropriate, yes; some would (and did) say that an awards show devoted to black musicians was long overdue. Awards shows have become a cliche on television, so the important thing this time wasn't really who won--but that black music was finally being saluted live on national television.
Modern pop music has been consistently energized and revamped--perhaps even created--by black artists from Little Richard (looking fit and happy Monday) and Chuck Berry to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Country music, which has produced far fewer platinum acts than "black music," has been honored with two live awards shows for years.
It is indicative of the influence of black pop musicians today that a casual viewer probably couldn't tell the difference at times Monday between the Soul Train Awards and the parade of other pop awards shows. The program, hosted by Luther Vandross and Dionne Warwick, featured (among the winners) Janet Jackson, rappers Run-D.M.C. and Stevie Wonder, and (among presenters) Whitney Houston, Jeffrey Osborne and Al Jarreau.
And while the awards shindig, broadcast from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, was less hyped than the Grammys or even the American Music Awards, Cornelius is confident that he has laid the groundwork to make the show an annual event.
"You don't think I'd put my neck on the line like this for a one-time shot, do you?" he asked, gesturing toward the throng of musicians, athletes and friends gathering in the green room.
"No, there's a need out there that none of the other shows are filling. 'Soul Train' has been on the air 17 years, and that's reason enough for optimism. I mean, awards shows are nice and all, but they happen all the time. We want ours to mean something."
The awards show is an extension of Cornelius' weekly "Soul Train" program, a syndicated soul/funk/R&B dance-a-thon that has been a staple of non-network television almost since Woodstock.
In a montage of "Soul Train" episodes dating from 1971, one could see Monday a gradual shift of black music's appeal from the pop fringes to the mainstream--and one could observe Cornelius himself (the show's host for all of those years) move from wildly luminescent green suits to natty tuxedoes.
"There's no need to pigeonhole types of music according to the fashions or the races of the people digging it," Cornelius said, shaking his head. "The thing is, we've had all kinds of people on 'Soul Train,' from Elton John to James Brown, and the audience has always been there. So I think it's time for all of us to break out of those old mind-sets just a little."
Backstage, there was a sense of community. The scene in the green room, as production aides bustled in and out, was energetic: promoter Don King discussing economic inequalities with NAACP president Benjamin Hooks; Cameo's Larry Blackmon talking singles and chart action with Run-D.M.C.'s Joseph Simmons; The Prince of Darkness (aka Miles Davis) giving a bear hug to Black Moses (Isaac Hayes), and the Magic Man--the Lakers' 6-foot, 9-inch guard supreme, Magic Johnson--towering above it all and grinning that grin.

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