Don Cornelius: Love, Peace and Soul

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Farewell to Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame.

[Remembrance]

If we are given free will, then is it ours to judge why someone used their free will to take their life?

Is it for us to judge another individual’s pain, whether physical, mental or emotional and determine what they must bear in order to submit to societal mores? We can only speculate regarding the whys and wherefores that prompted Don Cornelius to shoot himself at his home, taking his life at age 75, in the early morning hours of February 1, 2012.

While a journalist covering the civil rights movement of the late 1960s, Don Cornelius recognized the limitations Black entertainers and Black audiences experienced in television entertainment.  A seed was planted to bring soul music to the networks. 

Chicago born, Don Cornelius, was a man unafraid to take a chance and follow his dream. In order to support his family, he tried several jobs. First he was a car salesman, then, he sold insurance, a stint with the police department followed, until finally he took a broadcasting course, despite his limited funds. However, it was this course that put him in the position to utilize his deep voice. He became an announcer.  Later he became a news reporter, and eventually a disc jockey. All roads led to television where he hosted a news program entitled A Black’s View of the News on station WCIU-TV.

After pitching his idea of a music show featuring teenagers dancing to the latest soul and R&B music to his station manager, in 1970, Donald Cortez “Don” Cornelius launched the Soul Train program on WCIU-TV as a daily local show.  In 1971, Soul Train went into national syndication after securing Johnson Products and Sears, Roebuck and Co., as sponsors, pulling in audiences of all hues. This, prompted Cornelius to pack up and move himself, his family and his show to Los Angeles.

“Soul Train,” Don Cornelius's creation, became a phenomena, similar to American Bandstand, except it offered so much more, giving exposure to folks like Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, James Brown and Michael Jackson, just to name a few.  Not only were musicians given a platform but talented dancers were showcased.  The Soul Train dance line became so famous it attracted both young and older viewers as well as music and dance enthusiasts.  As Spike Lee once said, “Soul Train was an “urban music time capsule.”
Cornelius was able to branch out as a writer, producer, and host of Soul Train. Soul Train ran as a music variety show from 1971 to 2006. In 1987, Cornelius started the Soul Train Music Awards. With over 1,100 episodes, Soul Train was the "longest-running, first-run, nationally syndicated program in television history. Viacom Centric Cable presently airs reruns of Soul Train.

In 1993, Don Cornelius ended his run as host, although he was still the creative force. Then suddenly things went terribly wrong. In 2008, the Soul Train Music Awards ceremony was canceled due to the WGA strike. Don Cornelius became burdened with lawsuits. Later, he was arrested for domestic violence against his Russian wife Viktoria Chapman; he eventually pleaded no contest. Although divorced, it’s surmised Chapman may receive much of Cornelius’s estate.

Eventually, all of Don Cornelius’s miseries started to take its toll. Weary and in ill-health, Cornelius got on the Soul train for a final time; departing after having experienced a well-lived life. He left on his own terms, in his own way, wishing the world -- love, peace and soul.






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