Broadcast legend Joe Cobb is best known as the voice who calls out “Sooooooooul Train” on all branded content of the iconic music-dance television program. But now he claims Viacom is cheating him out of his royalties following the suicide of the program’s creator Don Cornelius.
Cobb revealed to the ChicagoCrusader that he has not received royalties for nearly a decade, and his legal team have hit a wall trying to reach a resolution.
“When Don launched the program he asked me to do voice over work for the television show,” Cobb tells the publication. “Sid McCoy did the announcing and I created the yell. Don and I had an agreement and everything was good. The show was a success. I was earning money. And, together we all took pride in creating something that celebrated and chronicled Black music and its global impact.”
Soul Train’s global reach over the past three decades has reportedly earned Cobb millions of dollars in royalties that he has not seen a single penny of.
“As the show continued to reach mainstream status the production company started skipping royalty payments,” Cobb explained. “I’d usually make a call and it was taken care of. But things changed around 2012. I had my lawyers send Don a letter demanding my back payments—and so he (Cornelius) reached out to me and said he’d work it out. A month later they claim he killed himself.”
Cornelius reportedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on back in February 2012, and authorities alleged his death was fueled by a recent divorce. But even his son Tony expressed doubt over the official story, as he told the press that his father didn’t appear to be suffering from depression.
In 2016, Viacom’s BET Networks division bought all rights and trademarks to the Soul Train brand, the show’s extensive library, the annual cruise event, and the award shows that continue to bear the Soul Train name. And through it all Cobb’s iconic yell remains the most consistent component of the Soul Train brand.
“When I started fighting all of these corporate lawyers at (Viacom) and BET and whatnot, at some point they tried to get some voice over artist to replicate my voice,” Cobb said. “He couldn’t. Then they reached out to me about a year ago and wanted me to take a buyout of less than $15,000. Do you know how insulting that was? You continue to make millions off of my voice all these years and you want to offer me a few crumbs? How dumb did they think I was?
“For a while I felt defeated,” he admitted. “It’s like trying to navigate a maze. My deal with Soul Train remains intact and I’m just honestly trying to get what’s owed to me. I admit I do get angry about it sometimes. No one likes to feel cheated.”
Radio veteran Glenn Cosby said he is not surprised that Cobb is being “cheated out of his royalties” because of the “history of these sort of conglomerates, doing this to Black artists.” He also slammed BET’s new drama series set in the world of Soul Train and centering on the rise and fall of Mr. Cornelius.
“It’s laughable to tell the history of Soul Train without mentioning Joe Cobb, Sid McCoy, Clinton Gent, WVON, WCIU and the Chicago Board of Trade,” Cosby told the ChicagoCrusader. “BET didn’t do a nickel’s worth of research. And, it’s not lost on any of (those in the industry) that Viacom/BET is stealing from Joe—not just his money, but also his voice.”