Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012; Cultural Pioneer, Media Visionary, and Innovative Producer

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012


Another GIANT has left the planet. Don Cornelius was a major visionary, innovator, and cultural leader whose fierce dedication to the best in African American popular culture permeated everything he did. Don was a truly independent black man of courage, decency, integrity, compassion, and intelligence who actually CARED deeply about black people and especially our youth. Cornelius and the legendary 'Soul Train' legacy that he left us will never be forgotten. Thank you for being there when we really needed you brother. Your dynamic television and radio programming taught the entire world just how great, inspiring, and valuable African American culture really is. RIP brother Don. You made the world a much better place and we will always be very grateful to you for that.

"You can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas honey! And in parting as always we wish you Love, Peace, and Soul!"

--Famous weekly signoff statement by Don Cornelius at the end of every 'Soul Train' program

Don Cornelius Dead: 'Soul Train' Host And Creator Dies After Apparent Suicide Soul Train Creator, Don Cornelius, Dead February 1, 2012
Huffington Post

Don Cornelius, the creator and longtime host of the groundbreaking music show ‘Soul Train,' has died. He was 75.

According to the New York Times, the police responded to reports of gunshots at Cornelius's Sherman Oaks home. They found Cornelius with a gunshot wound to the head that appeared to be self-inflicted, according to the Los Angeles County coroner.

A radio news announcer by trade, Cornelius began moonlighting at WCIU-TV in the 1960s. While there, he toyed with the idea of creating an African-American version of "American Bandstand," Dick Clark's influential music show, with live dancing five days a week. On August 17, 1970, the first episode of Soul Train premiered on the station, and by the following year, it was being syndicated in other markets.

"If I saw `American Bandstand' and I saw dancing and I knew black kids can dance better; and I saw white artists and I knew black artists make better music; and if I saw a white host and I knew a black host could project a hipper line of speech – and I did know all these things [then it was reasonable to try]," he told the Associated Press in 1995.

"Soul Train" would go on to become the longest-running nationally syndicated show in history, airing from 1971 through 2006. 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.

“It’s just so sad, stunning and downright shocking and a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large," Aretha Franklin said. "Don Cornelius singlehandedly brought about a melding and unity of brother and sisterhood among young adults worldwide and globally with the unforgettable creation of Soul Train.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a protegé of James Brown, echoed those sentiments.

"I have known him since I was 19 years old and James Brown had me speak on 'Soul Train,'" 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."

Cornelius recently told the Los Angeles Times that there were early plans to create a movie based on the franchise. "We've been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground," he said. "It wouldn't be the 'Soul Train' dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project. It's going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show."

In 2008, Cornelius was arrested and charged with spousal battery and dissuading a witness from making a police report, and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to three years probation.

During his rocky divorce battle with his ex-wife, Viktoria, TMZ reported that Cornelius made a morbid request in the couple’s divorce papers. "I am 72 years old. I have significant health issues," Cornelius said. "I want to finalize this divorce before I die."

Cornelius is survived by his two sons, Anthony and Raymond.

More from Jeff Wilson at the AP:

LOS ANGELES — Don Cornelius, the silken-voiced host of "Soul Train" who helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, died early Wednesday of an apparent suicide. He was 75.

Police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the coroner's office.

A police cruiser sat parked at the entryway of Cornelius' home on a two-lane stretch of Mulholland Drive in the hills above Los Angeles as detectives searched inside. News cameras camped outside as drivers on their morning commute drove by.

Police Officer Sara Faden said authorities have ruled out foul play. Detectives have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.

His death prompted many to speak of the positive influence he and his show had on pop culture, music and the black community.

"God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of `Soul Train,'" said Aretha Franklin, an early performer on the show.

Franklin called Cornelius "an American treasure."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson told KNX-Los Angeles that Cornelius "was a transformer."

"`Soul Train' became the outlet for African-Americans," Jackson said, adding that he talked to Cornelius a few days ago and there were no signs Cornelius was upset.

Others also expressed their grief.

"I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius," Quincy Jones said. "Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was `Soul Train,' that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius.

"His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched," he said. "My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones."

Clarence Avant, former chairman of Motown Records, said, "Don Cornelius' legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history. `Soul Train' was the first and only television show to showcase and put a spotlight on black artists at a time when there were few African-Americans on television at all, and that was the great vision of Don."

"Soul Train" began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.

It showcased such legendary artists as 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 executive producer.

"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."

Chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television Debra Lee cited Cornelius as a personal role model. She said she used to finish her chores early on Saturday mornings so she could check out the latest music, fashions and dance moves on the show.

"He was such a pioneer in the black music space but also in the black business space," she said. "He created the show in a very hostile environment. He made it a success and he made it a destination for African-Americans and lovers of our culture all over the country and all over the world.

"His reach is just amazing, and personally he was such a charming man," she continued, calling Cornelius "a great interviewer who knew how to connect to artists" and had "the best voice in the world."

Earvin "Magic" Johnson also cited Cornelius' business acumen.

"Don Cornelius was a pioneer & a trailblazer," Johnson wrote on Twitter. "He was the first African-American to create, produce, host & more importantly OWN his own show."

And, Johnson added, "Soul Train taught the world how to dance!"

Other entertainers and music fans also shared their thoughts about the show and its creator on Twitter, where both Cornelius and "Soul Train" were top topics Wednesday.

Singer-actor Ginuwine remembered the smooth-voiced producer as "someone who paved the way for black music."

"I still remember my first time on soul train," he wrote, "what an experience."

On his blog, music mogul Russell Simmons called Cornelius "one of the greatest music legends there was."

"Don Cornelius gave artists who had been segregated from most mainstream vehicles of expression a chance to perform in front of a huge national audience," Simmons wrote. "It was a tremendous opportunity that changed their careers and the whole music industry. To win a Soul Train Music Award meant that the most sophisticated tastemakers in the world loved your work."

"Soul Train," with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not, however, an immediate success for Cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble and cool manner.

Only a handful of stations initially were receptive.

"When we rolled it out, there were only eight takers," he recalled in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "Which was somewhere between a little disappointing and a whole lot disappointing."

The reasons he heard? "There was just, `We don't want it. We pass,'" he said, with race going unmentioned. "No one was blatant enough to say that."

"Soul Train" had arrived on the scene at a time when the country was still reeling from the civil rights movement, political upheaval and cultural swings. It also arrived when black faces on TV were an event, not a regular occurrence.

"Soul Train" was seen by some at first as the black "American Bandstand," the mainstay TV music show hosted by Dick Clark. While "American Bandstand" featured black artists, it was more of a showcase for white artists and very mainstream black performers.

"Soul Train" followed some of the "Bandstand" format, as it had an audience and young dancers. But that's where the comparisons stopped. Cornelius, the suave, ultra-cool emcee, made "Soul Train" appointment viewing by creating a show that showed another side of black music and culture.

When it started, glistening Afros dominated the set, as young blacks boogied and shimmied to the music of the likes of Earth Wind & Fire and other acts perhaps less likely to get on "American Bandstand."

"May u rest in peace and thank u 4 ur platform," rapper Q-Tip wrote on Twitter. "U will always be remembered."

People tuned into to see the musical acts, but the dancers soon became as much of a main attraction. They introduced Americans to new dances and fashion styles, and made the "Soul Train" dance line – where people stand line up on each side while others sashay down to show their moves – a cultural flashpoint.

"The `Soul Train' line – that will go down in history as a way of dancing at parties all around the world," Lee said.

Though "Soul Train" became the longest-running syndicated show in TV history, its power began to wane in the 1980s and `90s as American pop culture began folding in black culture instead of keeping it segregated. By that time, there were more options for black artists to appear on mainstream shows, and on shows like "American Bandstand," blacks could be seen dancing along with whites.

But even when Michael Jackson became the King of Pop, there was still a need to highlight the achievements of African-Americans that were still marginalized at mainstream events. So Cornelius created the "Soul Train Awards," which would become a key honor for musicians. The series also spawned the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest.

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.

"I figured as long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for `Soul Train,'" Cornelius said.

Neil Portnow, president and chief executive of the Recording Academy, called "Soul Train" a cultural phenomenon and its creator "a true visionary and trailblazer."

"He made an indelible impact on American television, one that will continue to be appreciated for generations to come," Portnow said. "His beautiful, deep voice and measured pace always sounded warm and familiar to the millions who admired and followed his broadcasts."

Cornelius stepped down as "Soul Train" host in 1993. The awards returned to the air in 2009 after two-year hiatus. Last year's awards were held on Nov. 27 in Atlanta, with Earth Wind & Fire receiving the "Legend Award."

In his later years, Cornelius had a troubled marriage. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery. In his divorce case that year, he also mentioned having significant health issues.


Moody reported from New York. Associated Press writers Robert Jablon, Anthony McCartney, Lynn Elber and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.,0,2718985.column

Don Cornelius:
Peace, love, soul -- and civil rights

by Greg Kot

Music critic

February 1, 2012

Chicago Tribune

Don Cornelius, who died Wednesday at 75, was a civil-rights pioneer disguised as a dance-music-show host. He used to sign off the “Soul Train” show he founded by wishing his viewers “love, peace and soul,” and devoted every programming minute to proving he meant it.

The baritone-voiced host slipped into many roles on “Soul Train” and made it look easy, like he was trying on just another tailored double-breasted suit. He was a music tastemaker, fashion leader, smooth talker and business innovator, a national icon who could broker a deal or bust a move on the dance floor without seeming to break a sweat.

But his role as a civil-rights leader is perhaps his most significant contribution, even though he didn’t call attention to it. Cornelius worked uplifting community messages into his programming, and created a social context for “Soul Train” that was as radical and empowering as any equal-rights speech or rally.

As Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson wrote Wednesday after Cornelius was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home, “Next to (Motown founder) Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius was hands down the most crucial nonpolitical figure to emerge from the Civil Rights era post-‘68.”

Thompson went on to amplify that assertion on his blog at “To say with a straight, dignified face that ‘black is beautiful’ was the riskiest, (most) radical life-changing move that America has seen. And amazingly enough for one hour, for one Saturday out (of) the week, if you were watching ‘Soul Train,’ it became contagious. Next thing you know you are actually believing you have some sort of worth. The whole idea of Afro-centrism in my opinion manifested and spread with ‘Soul Train’ in its first six years.”

To do it, Cornelius had to break through the walls that had barred African-Americans from power in television and music. In 1970 he went from juggling jobs as an insurance salesman, police officer, TV reporter and radio DJ in Chicago to hosting a local, low-budget African-American answer to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” By the next year, he was going national and soon every major black performer was clamoring to be on his syndicated show. James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Sly Stone were among his guests. Barry White showed up in a black velvet tux with a 40-piece orchestra in the midst of his larger-than-life heyday. The renowned Philadelphia songwriting and production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote the show’s theme song.

At a time when commercial radio was segregating across lines of style and race, Cornelius presented the richness of black music in all its variety to a national audience. He effectively became the most powerful DJ in America.

He also showed the ability to adapt, keeping the show relevant through the disco and hip-hop eras, even though he was not particularly a fan of either style of music. He hosted the most important hip-hop artists of the time, including L.L. Cool J, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Public Enemy. For many of these acts, “Soul Train” would be the first national television exposure they would receive.

“We didn’t get nationally known until we did ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ on ‘Soul Train’ in 1987,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D said Wednesday on Twitter. “We thanked Don forever.”

“Soul Train” did more than just passively present the music. At its core, Cornelius’ show was about a community responding – creatively, spontaneously, ecstatically -- to the music made for it. The palpable excitement of that interaction opened up African-American culture to the rest of the world and made it not only more accessible but also desirable, hip, fun.

Cornelius’ primary ambassadors were the dancers he hired. Initially, they were teenagers and young adults he met at the parties he used to DJ in Chicago. A number went on to become famous in their own right: Jody Watley, M.C. Hammer, and future Bears running back Walter Payton. They brought a street flair to the show that made “American Bandstand” seem tame, and their dance moves – the pop and lock, robot, moonwalk – were studied and often emulated by viewers, including a young Michael Jackson.

The show’s cultural cache – documenting and spreading the gospel of not just music, but African-American dance, slang, hairstyles and fashion – was tied to Cornelius' acumen as a businessman. As Berry Gordy was to music, Cornelius was to the intersection of music and television. He cut a path for future African-American music moguls such as Russell Simmons, L.A. Reid, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Jay-Z, as well as Bob Johnson, who founded the Black Entertainment Television cable network in 1980. Cornelius partnered with George Johnson and Johnson Products, another black-owned Chicago institution, as an early sponsor.

“At the time, there weren’t many black advertisements or black figures appearing in ads, so there really was no place else to put them,” said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at USC. “If you want to go back in the late 1950s, Nat King Cole’s show was canceled because they couldn’t find a sponsor. By the ’70s, Don Cornelius was pushing the [black] culture into the mainstream and also introducing concepts around sponsorship and advertising that previously had no other places to exist except the pages of John Johnson’s publications (Jet and Ebony).”

Cornelius quit as host in 1993, but continued to oversee everything from behind the scenes until the show’s demise more than 15 years later. Last September, Cornelius was coaxed back to Chicago from his California home for a week of festivities honoring the show’s 40th anniversary. About 15,000 people attended a concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park headlined by his friends Jerry Butler, the Impressions, the Emotions andChi-Lites. Cornelius, dressed in black leather, got the biggest ovation, the decades of memories compressed into a sustained moment of appreciation.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Richard Steele, the old friend who co-hosted the concert with DJ Herb Kent. “To look out and see all those people who came because it was ‘Soul Train,’ he was really moved by that.”

“At the end they also presented him with a street sign,” said Steele, now a host and producer at WBEZ-FM 91.5. “He was pretty shook up… When he did the customary sign-off he used to do, ‘Love, peace and soul,’ well, they went crazy.”

The Tribune’s Steve Johnson and Los Angeles Times staff writers contributed to this report.

Don Cornelius
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Don Cornelius at the 40th anniversary event for Soul Train. Born Donald Cortez Cornelius September 27, 1936 Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Died February 1, 2012 (aged 75) Sherman Oaks, California, U.S. Occupation Television host/Producer Years active 1966–2010 Known for Creator of Soul Train

Donald Cortez "Don" Cornelius (September 27, 1936 – February 1, 2012) was an American television show host and producer who was best known as the creator of the nationally syndicated dance/music franchise Soul Train, which he hosted from 1971 to 1993. Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.

Cornelius was born in Chicago's South Side on September 27, 1936,[1] and raised in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Following his graduation from DuSable High School in 1954, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served 18 months in Korea. He worked at various jobs following his stint in the military, including selling tires, automobiles and insurance and as an officer with the Chicago Police Department.[2] He quit his day job to take a three-month broadcasting course in 1966 despite being married with two sons and only US $400 in his bank account.[1] In 1966, he landed a job as an announcer, news reporter and disc jockey on Chicago radio station WVON.
Prior to moving the show to Los Angeles where it went into national syndication, Cornelius began SOUL TRAIN as a local show on WCIU-TV in Chicago in the mid 1960s.[3][4][5]

Originally a journalist inspired by the civil rights movement, Cornelius recognized that in the late 1960s there was no television venue in the United States for soul music, and introduced many African-American musicians to a larger audience as a result of their appearances on Soul Train, a program that was both influential among African-Americans and popular with a wider audience.[6] As writer, producer, and host of Soul Train, Cornelius was instrumental in offering wider exposure to black musicians such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, as well as creating opportunities for talented dancers that would presage subsequent television dance programs.[7] Cornelius said "We had a show that kids gravitated to," and Spike Lee described the program as an "urban music time capsule."[7]

Besides his smooth and deep voice, Cornelius was best known for the catchphrase that he used to close the show: "... and you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!" After Cornelius's departure, it was shortened to "...and as always, we wish you love, peace and soul!" and was used through the most recent new episodes in 2006. Another introductory phrase he often used was: "We got another sound comin' out of Philly that's a sure 'nough dilly".

He had a small number of film roles, most notably as record producer Moe Fuzz in 1988's Tapeheads.

The 2008 Soul Train Music Awards ceremony was not held due to the WGA strike and the end of Tribune Entertainment complicating the process of finding a new distributor to air the ceremony and line up the stations to air it. The awards show was moved in 2009 to Viacom's Centric cable channel (formerly BET J), which now airs Soul Train in reruns.

Cornelius last appeared at the 2009 BET Awards to present The O'Jays with the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

He not only brought us the music, birthed stars and started dance crazes, but he also did insightful interviews with musicians that gave us a unique peak into their lives, values, and personalities. He integrated messages on social justice into the music setting. He was the epitome of cool! Mr. Cornelius was a pioneer in every sense of the word.

--He was the first Black owner of a nationally syndicated TV franchise
--He set the precedent for a wave of Black entrepreneurship in the entertainment business and formed powerful alliances with Black-owned sponsors
--He hosted a program that endured for 35 seasons
--He founded the “Soul Train Line” that is the mainstay of most African American parties
--He increased the hiring of Black professionals in the entertainment business both in front of and behind the camera

Soul Train was one of the first brands other than Motown to take its brand into other business areas, like the Soul Train award shows.