Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Love, Peace and Soul to Don Cornelius
(This is a great tribute from ?uestlove - well written and a big sign into Don's influence)
Don Cornelius dying on the first day of Black History Month is ironic. Don Cornelius dying in a month devoted to our history, something he did incredibly more to uplift after the civil rights era, is spooky. And it's a perfect reminder to thank him for what he gave my community and America.
As a kid, I remember watching Soul Train after our Saturday morning cartoons went off. We'd watch to see who'd be performing and I loved watching all the dancers. Even in the 90's and early 2000's, Soul Train was still popular and vital, something Cameron Diaz showed in Charlie's Angels when she had a memorable dance scene. And of course, we all knew what the Soul Train line was. At the end, we all tried to do our own version of it.
The genius of Soul Train was how it brought everyone together to watch Black culture. The dancing, the music, the guests. It was a chance for America to see us be ourselves. And fresh after the 1960's, it was a beautiful thing to jump into the 70's and see a self-contained enterprise lead the way.
Don Cornelius was the first African-American to create, produce, host and own his first show. He wasn't just the face of it, he was the engine and the muscle. He crafted the vision of it and with Black music emerging as cool and mainstream, he gave it a platform. The same way American Bandstand gave teenagers a voice, Soul Train gave Black music and its community a positive outlet - ironically Dick Clark was an influence to Cornelius.
(I love this clip for a few reasons. James Brown speaking some truth and a young Al Sharpton giving him an award. Sharpton said today James encouraged him to be on that show and it was a great help to him.)
The best way to break down any barriers is to find a common goal. Music has played a huge role in that - whether it was James Brown saving Boston from rioting after Dr. King died, Bob Marley uniting rivaling candidates in Jamaica, or even helping strangers break the ice. The genius of Cornelius was to take our music to the masses and show them how to have fun. How to enjoy each other and find a common bond that transcended race.
He helped make Black culture cool the same way James Brown did. Not just cool to White America but cool to us as well. He uplifted a community that was beginning to express itself in new ways and in the 70's, it came on the verge of Black culture booming in movies, music, slang and much more.
When you watched Soul Train, you wanted to know what was cool. And Cornelius embodied that cool with his catchphrases, sharp suits and fresh look. It was sad watching him in 2009 at the BET Awards look unhealthy and speak so slowly because the Cornelius I remember hearing about was cool, poised, confident. Yet he still had a presence that reminded you of who he once was.
Soul Train gave voice to funk, R&B, disco, soul, hip-hop. It was a time capsule for what was happening in our culture and popular music and it was a beautiful thing. It crossed racial/generational barriers and for those of us who watched it at any point of our lives, we were blessed for it.
I watched the Soul Train Awards last year for the first time in a while. Gladys Knight was honored (the first guest on Soul Train). Earth Wind and Fire performed. Heavy D's life was celebrated by Whodini, Big Daddy Kane, Goodie Mob and others. That's what Soul Train and Don Cornelius represented - being the voice of our culture and touching so many genres that brought everyone from 8 to 80 together.
Thank you Don Cornelius. He's a vital piece of Black History and American media history. Rest in Love, Peace and Soooooooooooul!