“… and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! ”
Don Cornelius had one of those voices that immediately got your attention. Not like a scream will get your attention or an awkward laugh or shrill yelp but a smoother than silk baritone that demanded listening to. He was of course the founder and force behind SOUL TRAIN. He is sadly no longer with us, an apparent victim of a self-inflicted gun shot wound. I do not know anymore details than that nor do I care to when it involves a personal choice of that nature. I just hope his last moments were ones of solace and not desperation.
Soul Train was iconic for many reasons. An African American’s attempt at Bandstand it went way beyond that scope, The bands and artists featured on Soul Train were not the fare generally seen on American Bandstand, and that was good, because they were edgier, funkier, and much more soulful. This was a great thing for the artist because not only African-Americans were watching this show. I can clearly remember propping up on our shag carpet inside a house in the middle of the sticks in Tennessee waiting to hear “SOUUULLL TRAIN” and catch that little bit of animation until the dancing began and the Voice of Don Cornelius came forth to take subtle yet firm control of the evening’s festivities. White folks were tuning in and getting hip to bands they otherwise would not have gotten exposure to. And the list of dignitaries that took the stage was an endless array of the greatest American Funk, Soul, and R&B artists the world has ever known.
Don Cornelius will be remembered for taking a mainstream model and tweaking it to fit a black audience and in turn giving the world a gift that outlasted tons of other programs. Soul Train is an American institution. Anyone above the age of 30 can probably hear “SOOOUUUUL…” and be able to finish the line with “TRAIN.” (If you cannot you probably have none of the first word to start with.) It not only broke down racial barriers it was just good for the sake of utter, funky goodness. It made you feel like a dance party was happening right there in your living room. And in a way it was. Where American Bandstand felt so cardboard and predictable the folks coming down the DANCE LINE felt like they might, just maybe, step out of the television and be there with you.
Everyone needs to feel like a party could break loose in their house every now and then.
And for that Don Cornelius you made the world a better place. The world is better because you were in it and at the end of this journey,which is life, that is a powerful thing to be able to say about someone.
I am Elam McKnight, and as always in parting, I wish you love, peace and soul brother Cornelius!