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Cause Magazine


Don Cornelius Engineer of the Soul Train


Don Cornelius was a legend of broadcasting and pioneering entertainment mogul. He was the first black owner of a national- ly syndicated TV franchise. The smooth, deep voiced host of "Soul Train" who helped break down racial barriers and broad- en the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, died on February 1st, 2012 of an apparent suicide. He was 75. People were saddened to hear that Don Cornelius was gone. Many of us grew up with him, tuning in every Saturday to watch him host "Soul Train" the "hippest trip in America." The show has been off the air since 2006, but almost everyone knows the brand and what it represents. In addition to hosting, Cornelius had also created and produced the show, getting it on the air and syndicated at a time when African-Americans were marginalized and stereotyped on television and when there were very few black entertainment ventures on a national level. Don was independ- ent, cool, self-possessed and setting the tone for a new chapter in


black culture. He was right on the scene at a time that coincid- ed with the Civil Rights Movement, “Black Power” and the 70’s “do your own thing” vibe.


A radio news announcer by trade, Cornelius began moon- lighting at WCIU-TV in Chicago in the late 1960s. While there, he had the idea of creating an African-American ver- sion of "American Bandstand," Dick Clark's influential music show, with live dancing five days a week. It wasn’t easy to get off the ground, but on August 17, 1970 the first episode of “Soul Train” premiered on the station, and by the following year, a weekly version was being syndicated in other urban markets. It soon spread all across the country and eventually became a crossover hit with white audiences as well. Through the years, it showcased many legendary artists including Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. It brought the best R&B, soul and (later) hip-hop acts to TV and had young people dance to them.


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