*The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office has officially ruled the death of Soul Train creator Don Cornelius a suicide. It was a swift ruling that confirmed what was widely reported – Mr. Cornelius ended his own life on that fateful day, February 1, 2012.
That single, self-inflicted gun shot wound to his head was the shot that reverberated around the world. Don Cornelius was not only a great American story of triumph over travail, he was a hallowed symbol of African Americana. The news of his suicide on the first day of Black History Month was a jarring way to enter a month-long celebration of the contributions of African Americas to the vitality and veracity of this nation and the world.
He must have been in a really dark place to end his own life. But his legacy and memory will remain a bright light – one that will shine into perpetuity.
His mission was to shine a light on African American culture through music. Soul Train was the vehicle and it became the longest running syndicated show on television, a black history fact to remember and I bet a question that might some day pop up on the Jeopardy game show board under “Television History Facts.”
Mr. Cornelius made Soul Train “appointment television.” He showcased all the greats – just name one. He also showcased the unknown and obscure, literally making stars of them overnight. Because if they were on the “hippest trip in America,” they were instantly hip.
If you watched Soul Train you became instantly cool, no matter if you were black, white or otherwise. Where else could you learn the latest dances, hippest fashions, and the next best way to rock that Afro and what products you had to have to keep it looking good? The legendary Soul Train Line was essential viewing. It provided this writer with up close moves I could use down a Soul Train line at the next party I went to.
Soul Train absolutely raised my cool IQ. I wouldn’t have had a capful of cool or a hint of hipness without it particularly. You see back in the day I lived out in the San Fernando Valley where geography disconnected and isolated the enclave of black folks in the Valley from black culture that was more pervasive in black populated cities 20 miles and more south of them.
Soul Train was a window into another world me. It made me want to get down and boogie oogie oogie. Yes, I wanted desperately to be a dancer on the show even though my nascent abilities as a dancer weren’t quite prime time.
As fate would have it, this San Fernando Valley native got her moment in the sun. I was a Soul Train dancer in the late 70’s – well actually a substitute dancer in for a young lady recovering from an injury. It was exciting, daunting and bit intimidating. With my deer in headlights stare my partner, who was a regular dancer said to me, “Just look like you know what you are doing and act like you belong here. Do this and you will be just fine.”
Although I felt like a duck out of water, with the help and coaching of my friend, I looked like a duck gliding along the surface of a lake. Oh I was cool and became sort of an instant “it girl” in my hood. I had the time of my life and lived my dream. I also got the chance to meet Mr. Cornelius on the set and see him in action. He was masterful, awe-inspiring and bigger than life. Unfortunately for me, my stint on Soul Train was a short lived run, only four shows until his partner returned. But I did it and took away memories that have lasted me a lifetime, memories I’ve not shared until now.
Mr. Cornelius stepped down as the host of Soul Train in 1993 but the show continued with a series of new hosts who continued his vision, inculcating a new generation of Soul Train devotees. Soul Train remained the hippest trip in American until it went off the air in 2006.
When Mr. Cornelius signed off on February 1, 2012, it was a tragic end to a long running iconic figure in American music. His contributions will never be forgotten. With his parting, I wish him love, peace and soul.
Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information. For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected]