The late Don Cornelius, with his distinctive baritone voice, was the creator and host of the long-running dance show, “Soul Train.” The Chicago native was born September 27, 1936.
Donald Cortez Cornelius was born in the South Side and raised in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. After serving in the Marines, Cornelius was honorably discharged after 18 months and began working a series of odd jobs before betting on himself and taking a broadcasting course. The risky move paid off and in 1966, Cornelius was hired by local station WVON. In 1967, he was hired by WCIU-TV where he hosted the “A Black’s View of the News” program.
In 1970, Cornelius started the “Soul Train” show on WCIU. It was picked up for national syndication in 1971, which moved the show to Los Angeles. For its national debut episode in October of that year, Gladys Knights & The Pips, Eddie Kendricks, Bobby Hutton, and Honey Cone were the featured performers.
It became a massive hit and a staple of pop culture for exposing Black acts to a larger audience, its famous dancers, “Soul Train” dance line, and Cornelius’ famous “Love, peace and soulllllllllll,” catchphrase that ended every show. Cornelius used the popularity of the show to create the Soul Train Music Awards as well.
Cornelius stepped down from hosting in 1993, but the show continued on in syndication until 2006 with Cornelius still working behind the scenes as a producer. In 2008, Cornelius sold the rights to the “Soul Train” to MadVision Entertainment, which brought the show to the Centric network for a brief time. In 2011, Magic Johnson and InterMedia brought the rights to the show, with archived episodes airing on Johnson’s Aspire network.
Tragedy struck in 2012 when Cornelius was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his California home. He was in declining health and it was believed that brain surgery he’d had years earlier may have left him in unbearable pain.
He was 75 and was survived by two children, including his son, Don Jr. A show about the origins of the show “American Soul” airs on BET starring “Power” actor Sinqua Walls as Cornelius.
PHOTO: John Matthew Smith, Celebrity-Photos.com
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