Cornelius remembered for changing the image and course of blacks in
2, 2012) A day after Don Cornelius, creator of the long-running TV dance show "Soul
Train," was found dead in his Los Angeles home,
friends, colleagues and fans are lamenting the loss of an
innovative champion for blacks in the television and entertainment
"Soul Train" began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and
aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.
It introduced television audiences to such legendary artists as Aretha
Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and
later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of
the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the
dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius was the first host and
"There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity," he
said in 2006, then added: "I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to
avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew
was for them."
Cornelius, who was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame
in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said in 2006 he
remained grateful to the musicians who made "Soul Train" the destination
for the best and latest in black music.
"We have lost a pioneer in the field of television and music, who opened
doors for African Americans in the television Industry, with the longest
running weekly series in television," said Don Jackson, president of
Chicago-based Central City Productions "Don and I both got our start in
the entertainment and broadcast industry at WVON radio in Chicago. The
most intriguing memory I have of Don was his tremendous drive to launch
the Soul Train Music Awards against the opposition he received from the
major television music award shows, which, at the time, objected to
Donís idea of a Soul Music Awards show as unnecessary."
"Don Cornelius introduced America to Black Culture by providing a
platform to showcase our talent, our trends and our beauty," said Melody
Spann Cooper, president of WVON where Cornelius got his start in
broadcasting. "He was the original social network, for generations of
young Black Americans."
In a statement the Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled Corneilus as an activist
and friend. "I first met Don in 1964 when he was a reporter with the
iconic WVON radio station. Then, and throughout the course of his
lifetime, Don was driven by a singular determination to tell the story
of the African American experience. Inspired by the Civil Rights
movement, Don Cornelius transitioned from journalism and ventured into
the realm of music and entertainment.
With his own $400, Don rented out the WCIU/Channel 26 studios and
started Soul Train, a dance review featuring young high schoolers and
some of the highest profile, yet under-recognized Black talent in the
world of entertainment. It exploded in popularity, and after a year,
with the sponsorship of Johnson's Products Co., Soul Train went
national--and the rest is, quite literally, history.
Don was a personal friend. He shared many wonderful times in my home
with my wife and children. And in times of triumph and challenge, he was
always there. A part of my soul has traveled with him today. My love,
thoughts and prayers are with his family. We are beneficiaries of his
special kind of genius.
"Don Cornelius was a pioneer in the television and music industries,"
said Debra L. Lee, Chairman & CEO of BET Networks. "He made Soul Train a
destination for lovers of Black culture and music and connected the
world to our culture. We owe so much of our success to him, he built the
space for the creation of a BET, built a platform for the music that our
audience loves and gave a voice to countless artists that shaped Black
culture and beyond."
Plans for a memorial service in Chicago at the Museum of Broadcast
Communications are underway and will be announced shortly.
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