Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Don Cornelius R.I.P. Sep 27th 1936 – Feb 1st 2012

Don Cornelius R.I.P. (September 27, 1936 - February 1, 2012)
Don Cornelius R.I.P. (September 27, 1936 - February 1, 2012)

The global soul community was in shock with the news that mega hit TV show “Soul Train” creator and former host Don Cornelius, was found dead with a single shotgun wound to his head at his California home, apparently having taken his own life.

Don was 75-years-old and had hosted Soul Train from 1971 to 1993, and sold the show in 2008. He devised the format, produced it, wrote it, hosted it and was responsible for bringing many of today’s mega soul names to the public’s consciousness on the show. Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin included.

Aretha said: “God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide, and the unity and brotherhood he single-handedly brought about with his most memorable creation of "Soul Train.”

Many, many stars paid tribute to Don, after his death was announced. Quincy Jones: "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.”

He added: “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."

Legendary songwriter Kenny Gamble: “The Soul Train legacy will show you how great this man was. And Soul Train became such a great icon, not only did black people want to be on Soul Train, but you had Elton John, you had The Bee Gees, you had every white artists wanting to be on. Soul Train became the thing to do. Don Cornelius didn't do pop artists the way that a lot of the shows did black artists; he included everybody on his show."

Not just music stars paid tribute: "Don Cornelius was a pioneer & a trailblazer. He was the first African-American to create, produce, host & more importantly OWN his own show." Sports legend “Magic" Johnson.

Author and poet Maya Angelou: "We all have a great debt. His work in the 60s and 70s helped us to see, again, that human beings, we're more alike than we were unalike and the music and the people he showed allowed us to see. Showed us how the music, the gifts of the African American, to this country and to the world were great gifts and belonged to everybody all the time."

"Don Cornelius was simply a genius and the contributions he made to music and our culture are second to none. I will always treasure the fond memories I have of working with Don over the years and being part of the history that he created through Soul Train. He will truly be missed and my heart and prayers go out to his family." – Patti LaBelle.

Today’s music stars recognise his contribution, too. "Next to Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius was hands down the MOST crucial non-political figure to emerge from the civil rights era post 68. The craziest most radical thing of all is I don't even consider Soul Train his most radical statement.”

“Yes the idea of the young black teenager NOT mired in legal trouble on the 6 o'clock news getting camera time was a new idea to most. So of course the fact the U.S. really got its first vicarious look at our culture was amazing. But the TRUE stroke of genius in my opinion was how Don managed to show US how important we were. Which was NOT an easy task." – ?uestlove of The Roots.

Snoop Dog paid his tribute: RIP Don Cornelius. LOVE PEACE AND SOOOOUUULLLL 4eva." As did Ledisi: “R.I.P Mr. Don Cornelius thank you for leaving behind a legacy of Soul. You gave so many a chance to be seen and heard."

Don Cornelius was born in Chicago. Following high school, he served as a Marine in Korea. He served as a police officer and then in 1966, landed a job as an announcer, news reporter and DJ on a Chicago radio station. He created Soul Train for TV as a local show for Chicago in the mid 60s, and then moved it to LA and into national syndication at the start of the next decade.

He began his media career as a journalist inspired by the civil rights movement. He recognised that there was no television venue for soul music. As writer, producer, and host of Soul Train, Cornelius was instrumental in offering wider exposure to black musicians and creating opportunities for talented dancers that would precede subsequent television dance shows. Film director Spike Lee described the show as an "urban music time capsule.”

Besides his smooth and deep voice, Cornelius was best known for the catchphrase he used to close the show: "... and you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!"

After Cornelius's departure, it was shortened to "...and as always, we wish you love, peace and soul! "Soul Train can be seen in the UK on BET, via Free Sat.

There is speculation that Don was suffering from dementia. Shemar Moore, one of the former hosts of Soul Train, said: "I had heard rumours that it was early [onset] dementia, Alzheimer's, things like that. I'd heard that he was sick."

Final word to civil rights campaigner The Rev. Jesse Jackson: “Part of every person's soul who grew up on Soul Train died with him... On his tombstone should read his immortal words: "I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!”

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