On the first day of Black History month I glanced at my cell phone and saw an email that tugged my heart and snatched me back in time. The ladies of my dinner group were circulating the news that was just hitting the wires:

…Ladies –

Assuming you don’t already know this. Don Cornelius shot himself to death, last night.

He was found in his home this morning. Devastating news.

Devastating indeed His death hit me like a brick thrown through the window. Not dead? Not like this! I immediately snatched back to Saturdays in the seventies when my feet were groovin and my face was glued to my family’s black and white TV. I was surprised by the flood of memories and yet also comforted when I turned to twitter and found a similar outpouring of grief and reminiscence. There were so many people turning to twitter that #SoulTrain, #Don Cornelius and #PeaceLoveSoul immediately started trending and for a moment twitter was having the kind of technical difficulties you see on days of the World Cup Finals or the Golden Globes.

It was a sad way to commence Black History month but as one person pointed out on Twitter it was also fitting that the man who had so many of us dancing at the same time in our living rooms, had so many of us engaged in an online conversation. It was as if we were all doing one long Soul Train dance down memory lane to talk about his life and his contribution to our culture. All kinds of people from all over the place joined in the #SoulTrain Twitter timeline throughout the day.  So, I’m posting my Tweets and responses from February 1st. Consider it my roll down the middle of that social media Soul Train line…one hand in the air….one hand on the keyboard…..tapping out 140 characters at a time.

 

Don Cornelius. Say it ain’t so!

Death of Don Cornelius hit me like brick and snatched me back to Saturday mornings when my feet were groovin & my face was glued to TV

Soul Train showed us what to listen to, what to wear, how to dance, how to VIBE, how to be unapologetically fabulous. RIP Don Cornelius

 

PupsherLive (Pamela Upsher) @michele_norris Fabulous is the exact, right word. RIP Don Cornelius.

pbsgwen (gwen ifill) I never could get my Afro to work right, but I am among the legion who wanted a turn on that Soul Train lineOffice. #DonCornelius RIP

pbsgwen (gwen ifill) RIP Don Cornelius. Wishing you love, peace and SOUL…

JohnJHarwood (John Harwood) And frustrating weekly reminder of moves i couldn’t do @pbsgwen: MT @michele_norris: #SoulTrain was influential…catalytic…affirmative

msirismg (Iris M. Gross) @michele_norris @pbsgwen I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it! Why this way?! :*(

KevinMcGil (Kevin McGill)  @michele_norris Listening to MFSB (The Sound of Philadelphia) Most definitive Soul Train Theme 4 me. Feel like part of my childhood is gone.

 

Okay, clock says I should be dashing out for lunch but instead I feel the need to dash out a few thoughts about Don Cornelius & Soul Train.

Amazed at flood of memories upon learning of the death of Don Cornelius. For a generation, that show is part of our cultural DNA

 

NathumusMaximus (Nate Matson)  @michele_norris It’s amazing how we realize peoples’ impact on society – after they’re gone.

 

Hard to overstate the impact of Soul Train and of Don Cornelius – the host and creator of show billed as “hippest trip in the world”

Before the phrase appointment viewing had been coined — Soul Train was appointment viewing. Saturday afternoon. EVERY Saturday afternoon

There was no you tube on internet. You could hear artists on the radio but you had precious few opportunities to SEE them

 

EvasEdibles (Eva Thorne) @michele_norris #SoulTrain That’s right. Thank God 4 Motown & Soul Train. Otherwise our entertainers would have languished in obscurity.

NPRSonari (Sonari R. Glinton)  @michele_norris I was my sister and her friends’ dance party while they practiced by watching #SoulTrain

NPRSonari (Sonari R. Glinton)  So you could learn the dance moves!@michele_norris: Soul Train was appointment viewing….EVERY Saturday afternoon”

 

Had to wait for bands to show up at arenas, stadiums or clubs & if yr city wasn’t on the circuit you were out of luck save for #SoulTrain

Sure there were variety shows that showed music acts on TV. But many acts, despite HUGE followings couldn’t get booked save for #SoulTrain

And even for acts booked on mainstream variety shows like Bandstand & Don Kirshner, there was a difference when they appeared on #SoulTrain

Case in Point. Recent Doc on Bill Withers showed him on Bandstand w/ plastic dancers sashaying on stage. He was tight, restrained, hemmed-in.

Check out Bill Withers on #SoulTrain. He was free to be himself. He went to Church with “Grandma’s Hands” and knocked you out with “Use me.”

 

c8nhogarth (Cate Olds) @michele_norris Loving your reminiscing about Soul Train. #evenanuncoolwhitegirlinDenverlovedit

AuthorofPatches (Roy Pickering)   @michele_norris is now giving us a Don Cornelius tutorial. Teach the tweeters well. #SoulTrain

 

Don Cornelius gave artists a platform and he gave all of America a window into the mood and marvelous mystery of the black experience

 

ABL_Brands (A Beautiful Life)  @michele_norris I watched every weekend, mystified by the ads, intoxicated by the music. Told my mom I wanted to be black. I was three.

 

We watched on Saturdays for the music, for the clothes, for the swagger, for the dance moves and even for the ads #SoulTrain #AfroSheen

If you had a crystal ball that would take you into America’s black households on a Saturday afternoon circa 1970’s – here is what you’d see

You would see kids of all hues — hips rollin’, arms flappin’, high steppin’, low bendin’, poppin’, lockin’, stylin’ SMILING #SoulTrain

& notice I said kids of all hues b/c #SoulTrain was enjoyed by a whole lotta ppl who are not so-called members of the tribe. Get a witness?

 

myownpetard (Hopey McChangington)  @michele_norris i am white and jewish. my brother and i loved dancing around the family room along with soul train when we were kids!

bradmeltzer (Brad Meltzer)  @michele_norris I’m shouting Amen!

tmwinsett (Tina Winsett)  @michele_norris Me!!!

tmwinsett (Tina Winsett)  @michele_norris Pretty sure 1st performance of Bill Withers I saw was on Soul Train. It was a must see when I was a kid in the 70’s

sjjphd (SarahJack) @michele_norris I have vivid memories of watching #SoulTrain w/ my black/white blended family in 80s. We’d form a line in the living room.

jennmercerFE (Jenn Mercer)  @michele_norris I watched Soul Train after Sat cartoons & thought the animated intro WAS the show=very confused when people started dancing

jeremyneely (Jeremy Neely)  @michele_norris Word. Here’s one awkward white kid from rural Missouri who dug it. #RIPDonCornelius

JessieNYC (Jessie Daniels)  +1 RT @michele_norris Dig this @jeremyneely Word. Here’s 1 awkward white kid from rural Missouri who dug it. #RIPDonCornelius #SoulTrain

 

And if that crystal ball took you back to 70’s-era saturday morns, you’d also see Mama’s swaying at ironing board & Papa’s bobbing heads.

what else would you see if that crystal ball took you back to 70’s-era Saturday TV viewing of #SoulTrain….

You’d see Ad execs watching #SoulTrain — slack-jawed at all that funky fabulousness & smacking themselves for ignoring major market sector

 

SevenBlunts (Professional Thinker)  you better give the kids their history lesson miss @michele_norris. loving it!

BlkLibraryGirl (Honorée Jeffers)  @michele_norris Exactly!:-)

 

That crystal ball would show you rock musicians & fashion designers & Broadway choreographers enthusiastically watching #SoulTrain & then…

..and then later you’d see strains of what they saw on #SoulTrain in THEIR rock music in THEIR fashions & in THEIR Broadway productions.

Dig this @jeremyneely Word. Here’s one awkward white kid from rural Missouri who dug it. #RIPDonCornelius @nprmusic

#SoulTrain was more than merely influential. It was Catalytic. It was affirmative. It was Woodstock AND Watts on your set every weekend

 

Ltlbrn1 (Ltlbrn1)  @michele_norris A crowd of kids and men in my dads barbershop singing and laughing. And commenting on the clothes and dance moves!

Ltlbrn1 (Ltlbrn1 ) @michele_norris Only place to see Afro Sheen ads!!

clylesvibe (Carlyle  Peep) @michele_norris timeline for a great recollection of the impact of #soultrain

MrsGirlsLikeMe (La’keisha Gray-Sewel)  PPl @michele_norris is a must follow, especially on a day like this when our history and legacy need perspective & context

 

And it was all the more special, especially in the beginning because it was so hard to see unless you lived in certain cities

Don Cornelius always knew the Soul Train would roll thu all of America but when the show started it aired in fewer than ten cities.

 

gwynethjones (The DaringLibrarian)  @michele_norris Don Cornelius – the Conductor of Love, Peace, & Soul!

 

In the early days You could hop on the train if you lived in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, L.A., Philly or San Francisco. #SoulTrain

I remember begging our parents to go see relatives in Chicago instead of Birmingham. Why??? Because Chicago aired #SoulTrain on saturdays

 

Minkado (Minka WIggins)  @michele_norris thank you for sharing your thoughts on Don C. & #SoulTrain. It WAS appt tv each week. Changed my life. What a visionary!

mltaylor13pt1 (Michael Taylor)  @AuthorofPatches @michele_norris Class is in session & Ms Norris is teaching. Pay attention, this will be on the test. #SoulTrain

eScapesPhoto (David Vernon)  Alternatively watching @michele_norris tweet the ups of Soul Train while @xeni talks about the downs of chemo. Both eloquent and enriching.

thatalexyarde (Alexander Yarde)  @michele_norris I remember my older sister & I watching Soul Train every single week, dancing & singing along. It was our ritual.

msirismg (Iris M. Gross)  @michele_norris Tell me about it! We moved to OKC from DC in ’72 & I was upset they didn’t show it here until 1976!

 

In the early days Don Cornelius struggled to get to the holy grail of airing his show in 25 cities for full syndication. Stations were wary

But Don Cornelius knew how to conduct #SoulTrain and it eventually hit the magic number and kept on rolling “You don’t ned a ticket to ride”

Don Cornelius was helped mightily by a deal he struck with Johnson products and all those ads for … say it with me…. AFRO SHEEN

At that point people started watching for the show AND the ads. At the time outsize afros were often seen as something beyond mainstream

Mainstream American & TVexecs in particular equated outsize afro w/ an outstretched fist. Scary. Revolutionary. upsetting 2 folks in midwest

What those TV execs & skittish folks failed to realize is that caramel colored Crest kids in the midwest were also sporting afros

It blew our young minds when Johnson products started airing those ads for Afro Sheen other products b/c we’d never seen ads aimed at us

Those ads affirmed black beauty in a way that seems almost silly and ham handed now but back them it was a trumpet call from the television

 

KevinMcGil (Kevin McGill)  @michele_norris—Beautiful People, Use Afro-Sheen” #SoulTrain Ad

Headrick (Carter Headrick)  @michele_norris growing up in Brainerd and Luverne, MN big afros didn’t scare me -they amazed me. Was curious then and still am amazed today

Trust me — at the time No one on television… at least mainstream television was talking abut “Beautiful Black Queens.”

Tho it must be said, those ads, fabulous as they were, have a slight cringe factor since the men always tended to look a bit like Huggy Bear

 

CRREdwards (Crystal R R Edwards)  @michele_norris tweeting “Huggy Bear” just made my day.       

atane (Atane Ofiaja)  RT @clylesvibe Peep @michele_norris timeline for a great recollection of the impact of #soultrain

 

I offer as evidence the ads about the need to carry afro sheen when you went out “fox hunting’ But in truth it was a savvy play on words

Point of #SoulTrain Johnson ads: make viewers FEEL foxy in a world offering up a standard of beauty that tried to make them feel otherwise

 

thatalexyarde (Alexander Yarde)  @michele_norris I remember the clouds of Afro Sheen wafting out of my older sisters room when she and her girlfriends were going out. #cough

matthunte (Matthew Hunte)  From the archives : Even Frederick Douglas loved Afro-sheen youtube.com/watch?v=g8ffzI… @michele_norris #SoulTrain #DonCornelius

 

Remember aforementioned ad-execs — they eventually came calling. As did the record execs and station managers.

They all wanted to ride #SoulTrain to profits

Best of #SoulTrain episodes still available on DVD. Betting DVDs sold out 2day. Note to Cable – wouldn’t be a bad idea to re-air old show

Old episodes are also available on You Tube. Worth watching. Also worth noting the way the opening changed over the years.

Don Cornelius changed opening from yr 2 yr to match mood of the moment. Must say, didn’t love them all but loved that he kept his ears open

 

Deggans (Eric Deggans)  @michele_norris I’m actually partial to the O’Bryan opening…serious funk bass and guitar groove.

clylesvibe (Carlyle)  @michele_norris |my favorite was TSOP original and George Duke’s version. O’Bryan put a nice groove on it too. #soultrain theme.

mollymoor (Sandra Hann) @michele_norris In the day.. #SoulTrain was the place to watch..to learn all the new dances & artists ..Hope Don Cornelius is a peace now :(

blindtravel (John Miller)  @michele_norris I got to watch some of it, was kinda on the tail end as I came of age but I loved it as a budding musician. Sad 2hear this.

CCedJWhite (Julie White)  I loved #SoulTrain 4 what it showed me abt the world beyond my small town. MT @michele_norris is now giving us a Don Cornelius tutorial.

SChambersBK (Seve Chambers)  I suggest if you want a thoughtful perspective of Soul Train and its significance, look at @michele_norris‘ timeline.

RachelJSimmons (Rachel Simmons)  LOVING @michele_norris tweets about #soultrain

 

Later in life Cornelius admitted he didn’t immediately “get” Hip Hop or Rap. was probably when the engine on that train started to slow

Remember that crystal ball I mentioned that might transport you back to Sat afternoon TV viewing circa 1970’s

Before I leave topic of Afro Sheen & #SoulTrain. This needs to be said.

… Misting Green-Apple or Strawberry scented grease on your hair is a BAD idea. (more likely to attract bees instead of romance)

The death of Don Cornelius is a very, very very sad way to commence Black History month.

 

shrikale (Shrikant Kalegaonkar)  @michele_norris While Mr. Cornelius’s death is sad, not sure it’s a sad way to commence BHM. Look at memories & chatter it’s generated :)

shrikale (Shrikant Kalegaonkar)  @michele_norris In death, Mr. Cornelius has opened up a great conversation for black history month.

 

Don’t know abut any of you but I went to at least one high school dance with a date who took his fashion cues from Don Cornelius #Velvetsuit

 

matthunte (Matthew Hunte)  @Duly noted. MT @michele_norrisMisting Green-Apple or Strawberry scented grease on your hair is a BAD idea.

KimBondy (Kim Bondy)  “@michele_norris: ... Misting Green-Apple or Strawberry scented grease on your hair is a BAD idea.”<< agreed

brainac27 (brainac27)  @michele_norris Speaking of Broadway, the first time I witnessed @Jennifersspot sing the infamous”And I am Telling You” was on #SoulTrain

MickiMaynard (Micheline Maynard)  Here are 4 Lessons Don Cornelius And Soul Train Taught A White Midwestern Teenager – @Forbes onforb.es/wTEGwv cc: @michele_norris

dradambanks (Adam Banks)  @michele_norris your reminder calls up Donny Hathaway’s “Thank You Master For My Soul”–another powerful statement to be free w/in ourselves

amirtaron (amir taron)  @michele_norris reflections on #soultrain need to be packaged and distributed. a true carrier of our culture, true #griot

 

Truth is, if you’re of a certain age, you made a purchase or headed straight to the sewing machine based on something you saw on “SoulTrain”

Don Cornelius said in an intvw last yr that he was trying to shop a #SoulTrain movie. He talked to Eddie Murphy. Any idea what happened?

For those who are mourning Don Cornelius death and feeling melancholy about old times and #SoulTrain — consider this:

Don Cornelius ended show w/ 3 words. Think abt those 3 words. Say them out loud. Shout them if you must. Make sure they’re in your lives.

“... 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!”

 

 

Peace,

Love,

And lots and lots of  Soooooouuuuuuullllllll

 

Michele,

February 1, 2012

 

Can you express your thoughts on race in six words?  Give it a try at The Race Card Project™

Michele Norris is the host of NPR’s All Things Considered and the author of The Grace of Silence.

You can find it it your local book store or you can order it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s or IndieBound

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