Remembering Don Cornelius: 'Soul Train' creator defined an era
The news Wednesday morning that "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius was found dead in Sherman Oaks, an apparent suicide, has brought an entire era of music rushing back. The Times' Andrew Blankstein writes that Cornelius died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Cornelius, the low-key influencer who helped deliver funk, soul and disco music into Saturday afternoon living rooms across America and helped prime the world for the impending hip-hop revolution, was one of the most important tastemakers of the 1970s -- and was a key purveyor of black pop culture on television. He not only broke artists and songs on a weekly basis, but showcased the amazing dance moves that were reacting to the music.
2010 saw the release -- finally -- of a double-CD collection of "Soul Train" highlights, and the Times spoke with Cornelius about "Soul Train," its influence, and revisiting the era. "The '70s and '80s were just the period during which the best soul music was created and the best records were done," Cornelius told writer Jeff Weiss. "Whenever I walk into a store or any kind of environment, these kinds of songs from that period still play and I wonder if it's a 'Soul Train' tape. Because during those two decades, we were on top of them all in one way or another, either presenting the guests or playing the records. We were just flat-out in love with the music."
Cornelius also spoke about his initial reactions to hip-hop -- he was lukewarm at first, but soon enough started playing it -- and about his then-current plans to bring to life a film based on "Soul Train."
"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. I had a discussion with Eddie Murphy not long ago, and he liked the documentary so much that he suggested that he might want to do something in terms of the show's relationship with James Brown -- if not play him, than just do a kind of vignette."
Pop & Hiss will keep you updated on the sad news of Cornelius' death.
And then there's this, which says it all:
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Don Cornelius in 2006. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press