Remembering Don & Soul Train

The day after Don Cornelius died, when I arrived at the South Side YMCA that morning for Zumba, the girls called me to hurry and join them for an impromptu Soul
Train Line before class.  What fun!   All Saturday evening the television was tuned to a 7-hour Soul Train marathon.  Periodically, throughout the evening friend
and family also tuned in called to reminisce and laugh about something – the
moves, the get-ups, the music, the artists.   Sunday morning at church, the pastor led the congregation out of the sanctuary down the center aisle in true Soul Train fashion.

I wonder if Don Cornelius knew the extent of his impact on American culture.  I wonder if he knew what he had done.  I sure hope he at least had an inkling.  I’m glad Chicago honored him last summer whenhe could feel the love.   I’m glad he
lived.

I loved Soul Train.  The Saturday morning ritual of family gathering together around the television to watch US do our thing.  A source of pride.  The music was rich and soulful, the people colorful, the talent brilliant, the dancing and the outfits outrageous.  I loved the spotlight dancers, the dance competitions, the interviews, the Soul Train Scramble Board (everyone always scrambled correctly), and that amazing
Soul Train line.  It was definitely the “Hippest trip in America.”  And not only
was the show special, so were the commercials.

They celebrated our beauty.  Those big, floating naturals that swayed with each movement were an outward expression of pride and dignity.   Our royal heritage
uplifted.  Our nobility lauded.   Our ancestors come to life to guide us.  I’ll never forget the song that played behind an Afro-Sheen commercial – “Wazu Wazuri – use Afro-Sheen , Beautiful people Use Afro Sheen – Beautiful products for a beautiful people – Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen.”  In fact Soul Train might never have hit the airways had it not been for the Black-owned Johnson Products Company, makers of Afro Sheen.  Despite the picture painted by the outside world, on Soul Train our images were
positive, a true and accurate reflection of ourselves.

Jerry “the Ice Man” Butler said he wrote one of those early commercials – he sang a bit of it at Don’s official Celebration at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.  While a small television monitor broadcast an episode of Soul train in the background, and a perfectly executed illustration of Don served as a backdrop, the speakers shared personal memories.  And while the memories were different, the sentiment was the same.  Don Cornelius was a visionary, a savvy businessman (he owned the show) and a game changer.  He was the right man at the right time in history. We were changing, beginning to embrace our own culture, and he used the medium of television to put a spotlight on it. He gave us a platform to just be who we were and the whole world benefitted.   Because of Soul train, careers were launched, businesses
thrived and thousands of young people learned to dance.

“We wish you Love, Peace & Soul.”

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  • Oh I loved watching Soul Train. Its where I learned you could dance longer if you worked your arms more than your legs.

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