Wednesday, February 1, 2012

LAST RIDE ON THE SOUULLL TRAIN

Written by: Nancy Crozier

I was born and raised in Essex County, at the southwestern tip of Ontario. Bordered by the USA to the south, west and north, our cultural influences were American as much as Canadian. We received American TV shows and radio over our antennae; if we were lucky enough to attend musical theatre, it was in Detroit; sports fans were (and still are) as likely to support the Red Wings as the Leafs.

I was reminded of all this by the death of Don Cornelius, longtime host of "Soul Train". The show ran from October 1971 to March 2006 and holds the distinction of being the longest continuously running first-run syndicated program in television history. It showcased R&B, soul, and hip hop artists, with a smattering of funk, jazz, disco and gospel.

I vividly remember watching "Soul Train" with my little brother. We laughed delightedly at the outrageous clothes, but no one could mock the music, or the fantastic dancing that we tried so hard to imitate (thank god no video exists). One of my brother's cherished boyhood memories is the moment when one female guest danced so enthusiastically that her bare breast bounced out of her halter dress.

After serving as a marine in Korea, Don Cornelius went into Chicago radio, working as an announcer, reporter and DJ. Recognizing that black music, especially soul, was badly represented on American television, he eventually wrote, produced and hosted "Soul Train", influential among black and white audiences and musicians.

Each show closed with the dulcet tones of Cornelius, dark and smooth as molasses. "And you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!"

He died today, reportedly of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Wishing you love, peace and soul, Mr. Cornelius.

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