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:
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
pbsgwen (gwen ifill) RIP Don Cornelius. Wishing you love, peace and SOUL…
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
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
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.”
Don Cornelius gave artists a platform and he gave all of America a window into the mood and marvelous mystery of the black experience
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?
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
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.
#SoulTrain was more than merely influential. It was Catalytic. It was affirmative. It was Woodstock AND Watts on your set every weekend
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!”
And lots and lots of Soooooouuuuuuullllllll
February 1, 2012
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Michele Norris is the host of NPR’s All Things Considered and the author of The Grace of Silence.