On Saturday mornings, somebody would make a mess in the kitchen, fixing pancakes and other things for our big weekend breakfast. That person would do so as the rest of us, with the aid of a friend or two would clean the house. You see, Saturday was the day that we mopped, polished and cleared the detritus from the prior week. Sunday through Friday, the whole family had dashed in and out of the house. We had gone to church and maybe to a friend's home. Some of us went to school while others went to work. Mom went grocery shopping, and my dad visited the infirm. As a Chaplain in New York, he also visited the incarcerated, for the purpose of offering the gospel. So after going here and there all week, on Saturday mornings we had a ritual. We would not miss Soul Train with its velvet voiced creator, Don Cornelius who had once served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
As African-Americans we -- our cousins, friends and neighbors included -- loved seeing images of those that looked like us. We adored the big hair, the toned and curvy bodies, the soul music and the dances that we often imitated. Although most of us were not aware of it back then, those Soul Train Saturdays were igniting a nation. In houses and businesses all across America, the same thing was happening. People were washing and hot-combing tresses. Barbers were cutting hair and shaving faces. Butchers were papering meat while shoe clerks were measuring feet. Yet we were all connected. No matter what we were doing, we were all moving & shaking, enjoying what had culturally become a family affair.
For many, including non-ethnic people, Don Cornelius' Soul Train became highly influential. In 1970 it was initially a local show, located in Chicago and shown daily. Yet the following year, in Los Angeles, Soul Train entered national syndication. The music hour included performances by groups -- Shalimar, the Ojays, and Con Funk Shun, to name a few. On Soul Train we also saw individuals like Aretha Franklin, Patrice Rushen [Forget Me Not] and Denise Williams [It's Gonna Take a Miracle]. We got to see our favorite bands, Earth Wind and Fire, and beloved families such as the Jackson 5 and the Sylvers [Boogie Fever]. Soul Train didn't stop there. It included interviews, a word puzzle, and the famous Soul Train Line. This show; that became iconic, influenced the style and the taste of millions. However, Soul Train did not do that for Black people and others of color alone. It influenced a nation! This was evidenced by the fact that many white / non-ethnic artists began to appear on the show that had once been a mere idea in a pioneering man’s mind. Artists like David Bowie, Elton John, and Average White Band -- to name a few -- appeared on Soul Train. Civil rights activists like Reverend Al Sharpton also appeared on the show that was, in its way, socially conscious.
As quiet as it's kept, Soul Train proved crucial in hooking up mainstream advertisers with black consumers. Early on, these advertisers were wary, unsure of the combined national spending power of those in ethnic communities. Sadly, even black executives in the recording industry were somewhat aloof at the time. Thus Mr. Cornelius -- once called the Pope of Soul -- received and relied upon backing by black-owned companies, like the Johnson Company. Remember those Afro-Sheen commercials?
With all of this in mind, today I speak to you my ethnic family, as well as our sisters and brothers from other mothers, about Soul Train. As we mourn the loss of Don Cornelius, a visionary and a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word, a man who understood the importance of black independent media, I would like you want to remember one thing... As we also celebrate Black History Month, do not forget this... If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it. The velvet-voiced broadcaster proved this, when he was married with two small sons and less than $500 in his bank account.
I believe musician and radio personality James Mtumé said it perfectly, and I quote, "Don had a vision; he saw something that could be..."