Love, peace and soul was the ‘Soul Train’ mantra and writer Nelson George has put all of the above into his new book, Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America. George, a cultural critic who’s written over 15 books, says that he wrote the book to tell the accurate story of the show’s history as well as the charismatic man behind it.
“Don Cornelius was an announcer on WVON (Chicago) he wasn’t a star. He was a news reporter, actually. He was doing parties on the weekend and he called them the Soul Train. He had about 3 or four jobs, including as a policeman, but at some point, someone told him he had a great voice and he should be on the radio. “
Cornelius, with some help from a sales rep at Sears and Roebuck, got initial financing to do his own Black version of American Bandstand. As they say, the rest is history that is well documented in George’s book.
“I teach a college course here in Brooklyn once a week and they’re all 19 and 20-year-olds, but they all know Soul Train, they all know Love peace and soul and they all know the Soul Train line. So a show that started over 40 years ago still resonates.”
One of the book’s most astonishing moments is the story that Dick Clark tried to put Don Cornelius off the air.
“He did a show in 1973 called Soul Unlimited,” George says. “It lasted about 5 episodes and was hosted by brother named Buster Jones, a deejay. It took a combined effort of outside agitating by Jesse Jackson as well as some diplomacy by a man named Clarence Avant, a man who is an underground figure in Black music history, and they were able to get it shut down.”
Soul Train went off the air in 2006 but Cornelis had already sold the company. Cornelius’ declining health in his later years led to his suicide at age 75 in 2012.
This is one of three Soul Train books published recently including one by longtime fan Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots, so it’s safe to say, Don Cornelius left the world with his legacy intact.
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