'Soul Train's' Don Cornelius remembered by friends, colleagues, fans
Many in the entertainment world were shocked Wednesday at the news that “Soul Train” creator and host Don Cornelius had died this week in Los Angeles at age 75. The following are statements issued by numerous friends, colleagues and fans of the man and his widely influential show.
• “Don Cornelius! It’s so shocking and stunning. God bless him. He created a solid and broad foundation for young people and adults alike to socialize, dance and have good clean fun. He united the young adult community single-handedly and globally. With the inception of ‘Soul Train,’ a young, progressive brother set the pace and worldwide standard for young aspiring African American men and entrepreneurs in TV — out of Chicago. He transcended cultural barriers among young adults. They became one. Everybody loved ‘Soul Train’ and appreciated Don!”
-- Aretha Franklin
• "It's a heartbreak to the music world, to the television world and it is a heartbreak to me personally. That's why we have to always reach out to friends and put our best love forward. God bless his family and God bless his soul."
-- Stevie Wonder
• “Don Cornelius was a pioneer, an innovator, and a trailblazer. He was the first African-American to create, produce, host and more importantly OWN his own television show. ‘Soul Train’ was a nationally syndicated show that paved the way for singers, musicians and dancers, giving them the ultimate platform to showcase their talents when no one else would. Every Saturday morning I looked forward to watching ‘Soul Train,’ as did millions of other people. ‘Soul Train’ taught the world how to dance! Don’s contribution to us all is immeasurable. He will truly be missed. I thank him for trusting me with his ‘Soul Train’ brand and I will carry on his legacy through it. My condolences to his son and my good friend Tony Cornelius and the entire Cornelius family.”
-- Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman, Soul Train Holdings
• "I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague and business partner Don Cornelius. 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. My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones."
-- Quincy Jones
• “We are overwhelmed with the news regarding the passing of Don Cornelius. Our deepest sympathy and thoughts are with his family at this time. He was a true television visionary and his contributions to African American culture, music, and entertainment are incomparable. The outpouring of affection and tributes to his legacy are a true testament to the profound impact that his life’s work had on many generations.”
-- Kenard Gibbs, CEO, Soul Train Holdings
• "Don Cornelius, the visionary, the gentleman and my friend, was a class act! His creation of the 'Soul Train Entertainment Phenomenon' provided the platform that allowed the music, dance, and performing arts born of the African American culture to be exposed to and permeate American and world culture. Don Cornelius pioneered and popularized the recorded music of the Motown and Stax recorded music brands, rendering them successes, and 'Soul Train' became the catalyst that perpetuated their artistic achievements into a world of renown. Without Don Cornelius and 'Soul Train,' American popular music would not have become the work of artistic excellence that is admired by -- and that influences -- music creators and performing artists globally. ‘Soul Train’ and Don Cornelius' entertainment heartbeat continues ON!!!”
-- Al Bell, chairman, Memphis Music Foundation and former head of Stax Records
• “Don Cornelius was a visionary and pioneer who will always be remembered for his gift to the world: 'Soul Train.' Without Don's contributions, Rhythm and Blues music would not have had a TV platform to expose artists that has meant so much to the rich history of Rhythm and Blues music. We are beyond grateful to Don for everything that he has done to cement our music and our culture into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Our condolences go out to Don’s family and friends all over the world."
-- Damon Williams, chairman, Rhythm and Blues Foundation
• “We did a retrospective of ‘Soul Train’ and screened a new documentary [‘Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America’] in early 2010.
“From the audience during the screening, you really got a feel on how the audiences stood by and cherished the program for a long time. This was the 40th anniversary.
"The show was a window in to African American culture, fashion, dance trends, all sorts of things that were happening in African American culture. It was a memory shared by so many people -- people from metropolitan areas, but also people growing up in areas that were not as heterogeneous. It was a way into a culture that they didn’t have access to.
“When we were screening things, [we noticed that] artists [such as] Marvin Gaye or even David Bowie gave a different performance on the show. Something special was brought out by that show, the whole environment. It was certainly a unique variety show and why it’s so special in many ways.
“It’s one of the longest running shows in syndication. Seeing the documentary with an audience was just a great experience. Everyone just knew all the lines and movements. It was a joyous experience to see it with an audience that grew up with it. One of the happiest occasions we’ve had here."
-- Ron Simon, curator of television and radio, Paley Center for Media in New York
• "Certainly, ‘Soul Train’ was a major delivery system of R&B music to a much wider audience than might have otherwise seen it on a weekly basis. But it’s important to remember that by the time we get to the late 1960s and early 1970s, television was starting to open up, it wasn’t as segregated as it was in previous decades. MTV had not started yet, so now you could not only hear these acts, but you could see them.
“One of the most important things about that show, was not only the acts, but the people on the floor. It was one thing to see Aretha or Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. It was another thing to see a bunch of people responding to it. This show was really different, and that was very, very important.
“MTV kind of notoriously ignored black acts in its first years... [When MTV got into rap], ‘Soul Train’ played those acts, but Don Cornelius was never as comfortable with it.
"It helped [spread black culture] into the mainstream, it helped get people who otherwise would not have seen it. At the same time, it appealed to a large African American audience that advertisers were looking for."
-- Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture, Syracuse University
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Don Cornelius at a 2011 ceremony dedicating a street in Chicago in his name. Credit: Tom Cruze / Associated Press.