Don Cornelius 1936 – 2012: The Heart And Soul Of Musicby J-Stacknik
“Love, peace, and SOUL” was the moniker of Don Cornelius, host of Soul Train. It was how he ended every show and it became his signature mostly because of the way he delivered it with his purring baritone voice. Cornelius was host of the groundbreaking show from its start in 1971 before stepping down in 1993. He was a champion of black music and brought artists such as Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to mainstream America.
To these artists he was so much more. He was called “A cultural groundbreaker who advanced African-American music and culture and a black entrepreneur who overcame racism by strength of will. “He was an American treasure. God bless him for the solid, good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide” said Aretha Franklin.
Donald Cortez Cornelius was born September 27, 1936 in Chicago. He served as a Marine in Korea and was working as an insurance salesman when he spent $400 on a broadcasting course and landed a part time job in 1966 as an announcer and DJ on WVON radio where people heard his distinct baritone rumble on air for the first time. Cornelius was moonlighting at WCIU-TV when Roy Wood, his mentor at WVON moved there, and won a job producing and hosting “A Black’s View of the News”. The station was looking to expand its ethnic programming and Cornelius pitched the idea of Soul Train.
Soul Train was based on the show American Bandstand hosted by a young, fresh faced Dick Clark which featured bands and solo singers performing while young white teenagers danced around them. It became very popular. Soul Train followed the same premise but featured African-American artists. It became a regular show on WCIU-TV for a few years before production was moved to Los Angeles where it ran as a weekly syndicated show that premiered in 1971. Soul Train helped launch the careers of not only Franklin and Wonder but also renowned artists like James Brown, Jerry Butler, Marvin Gaye, The O’Jays, Gladys Knight & The Pips and Barry White.
Cornelius stepped down as host in 1993 and the show continued to run for another 13 years with various hosts. Cornelius eventually sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008. Don Cornelius’s legacy will live on with the Soul Train Music Awards and Lady Soul Music Awards.