*BET Networks’ acquisition of Soul Train this past April has given the historic brand a new beginning. One can only imagine what to expect from this year’s upcoming Soul Train Weekend in Las Vegas, Nov. 3 – 6.
According to reports the purchase of Don Cornelius’ iconic creation includes ownership of one of the largest African-American music content libraries. It’s said to consist of more than 1,100 television episodes and 40 specials. One can only speculate how BET could utilize this treasured video archive, but what about Soul Train’s incredibly deep catalog of online content?
Having relaunched Soul Train Awards in 2009, some would say BET has already introduced Soul Train to a new generation while keeping its name alive and respected. For those who frequented SoulTrain.com, they may argue the official website did that also.
SoulTrain.com originally launched in 1999 as a hand coded site. It got new life once relaunched in ’09 under Soul Train Holdings, LLC. Not content to revel in Soul Train’s television past, the website employed a creative, experienced team that stepped boldly into the brand’s future. Where Soul Train presented the freshest music, styles, and top celebrity guests on TV every Saturday at noon, SoulTrain.com did the same online Monday through Friday.
Singer, songwriter, and entertainment journalist Rhonda Nicole Tankerson was the site’s managing editor up until the BET purchase. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Tankerson previously served as Feature Writing Fellow with Walt Disney Studios and was also personal assistant to legendary radio host Tom Joyner.
After being highlighted on SoulTrain.com as a “Sound Check” artist – one of the site’s most coveted features – in 2009, Tankerson was invited back to conduct backstage interviews at the 2010 Soul Train Awards. She returned to the site in 2011 to interview Michael Franti, which gave birth to popular column “Artist to Artist”. She assumed the leadership role a few months later following famed lifestyle writer and publisher Quia Querisma’s departure from the position.
Tankerson tells EURweb her initial direction for the site’s content was to maintain what Querisma already established. “I also knew that it was important to make sure we kept the vibe and energy of the content true to Don Cornelius’ vision,” she says. “So we definitely wanted to feature veteran artists and also provide a platform for emerging artists.” They did that in grand fashion.
Such icons as Chaka Khan, Ron Isley, Eddie Levert, Charlie Wilson, Eddie Money, Ruth Pointer, Freddie Jackson and Terri Lyn Harrington found themselves featured alongside current stars Anthony Anderson, Lalah Hathaway, J. Cole, Elle Varner, The Foreign Exchange, Kem, Angie Stone, Daron Jones, Joss Stone, B.o.B, and Chrisette Michele. New artists KING, HighTyde, Solero, Ty Dolla Sign, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Tasha Cobbs were among the many who got their much-desired Train ride via the site.
Tankerson says she also wanted “to ensure that the quality of the content–from the actual stories to the writing and presentation–upheld Don Cornelius’ legendary standards.”
The team of writers charged with following this direction included arts/culture writer Lashawn Williams (BlackDoctor.org), best-selling author Enitan Bereola, II (GENTLEWOMAN, BEREOLAESQUE), journalist and former Soul Train dancer Stephen McMillian, sought after PR consultant/entertainment writer Jamillah Rahmaad (JR|PR, 100 Female Entrepreneurs), musician/writer Montrose Cunningham, research associate in education/writer Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels (University of Wisconsin-Madison), television news/entertainment journalist Shameika Rene’ (WEtv, JET Magazine), and writer/hip-hop artist Charles Nunley IV aka DJ Chuck “thE oLd SouL” (Honor Flow Productions). Their personalities brought to computer, tablet and smartphone screens what the Soul Train Dancers brought to television screens.
Rene’ joined the site in 2011. She tells EURweb she loved everything about Soul Train, noting Cornelius inspired her desire to interview artists. “Being able to do that meant the absolute world to me–and to carry on the name through the digital era was amazing,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade one second. I just hope that while Mr. Cornelius was alive, that he was proud of the way we carried on his brand and kept it alive. Many artists I spoke to over the years said they were excited to be on the Soul Train site because they weren’t able to be on the actual show. I think the digital version did an amazing job of bridging the gap between the past, present, and the future. I’ll miss it.”
DJ Chuck came aboard in 2013, and recalls interviewing hip-hop star Rapsody long before she became a Grammy-winner with collaborator Kendrick Lamar. “The thing I loved the most about writing for SoulTrain.com was as writers, we had carte blanche to pretty much write about whatever we wanted to,” he says. “One of my criticisms as someone who has worked within the media in the fields of music journalism and radio broadcasting, is the lacking opportunity to be tastemakers and educate the public on ‘what’s next’ and ‘what’s legendary’. SoulTrain.com allowed me do that. That was one of Don Cornelius’ missions while Soul Train was on the air, and it was my personal goal to translate that particular mission into the digital era.”
That was a mission well-accomplished by the site overall. SoulTrain.com’s open-and-honest interviews, album and concert reviews, and ambitious feature articles that ranged from music and movies to fashion and social commentary, often felt more like events than simply reading material. Their topics brought out the stars.
Annually SoulTrain.com would rank the best dance music of the year with its “Top 10 Dance Tracks”, assisted by some of the best DJs and producers in the world. DJ Drama, DJ Smallz, DJ Wonder, DJ Young Mase, DJ Hershey, DJ Mesta, Gigamesh, and Teddy Riley all leant their insight.
SoulTrain.com also famously, and quite controversially, ranked Pete Rock #1 out of the “Top 40 Most-Soulful Hip-Hop Artists”, and Tina Turner topped the “25 Most Soulful Rock Singers”. Speaking of Turner, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Malina Moye, Nik West, Tia Fuller, Cece Peniston, and Victoria Monet were each part of “It’s Only Love: An All-Star Celebration of Tina Turner’s 75th Birthday”.
Pepsii Riley, Marc Gordon, Bowlegged Lou of Full Force, Big Mel, Anthony David, Vesta Williams, Case, Carl Thomas, Eric Roberson, Asia Bryant, Donell Jones, Rodney Perry, B. Howard and Brian McKnight came together for an all-star Q&A titled “Real G” honoring the memory of Gerald Levert.
WC, DJ Crazy Toones, Too Short, Ludacris, Antwan “Amadeus” Thompson, Skyzoo, Eternia, Crooked I, Kevlaar 7, Illmind, Bronze Nazareth, and YoYo declared Ice Cube “The Coldest.”
Three-part series “The Gap” analyzed the problem of generation conflict among Black entertainers. It enlisted the opinions and experiences of Al Jarreau, Chet Willis of Ohio Players, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Janelle Monae, Robin Thicke, Fat Joe, Teairra Mari, Robin Thicke, Vanilla Ice, T.I. and Chris Walker.
Column “Diary of an Ex-Soul Train Dancer” was like a reoccurring homecoming, interviewing and honoring many of Soul Train’s famous dancers; these included Cheryl Song, Jermain Stewart, Tony GoGo, Shabba-Doo, Sheila “The Diva” Lewis, Slim the Robot, and Jody Watley.
And it should be no surprise countless others paid their respects to Soul Train creator Cornelius, whether in star-studded series “Valentines for Don Cornelius”, a yearly feature like “Happy Birthday, Don Cornelius”, or whenever an opportunity to honor the legend presented itself.
“Everyone has special memories of Soul Train, and I think our being out there as SoulTrain.com went a long way to keep that nostalgia alive,”Tankerson says. “It also provided an important space to honor Don Cornelius, the Soul Train Dancers, the artists who performed on the show–both the original Chicago version and then the syndicated LA version, and Soul Train’s place in American culture.
“SoulTrain.com thrived without the benefit of the television show still being in production is a testament to Soul Train’s enduring legacy and how much people loved the show,” Tankerson continues. “SoulTrain.com was Soul Train for the digital age, with content that allowed us to reminisce and content that gave us a glimpse into the future. I’m grateful to the writers, the Soul Train Holdings team, and most of all, the readers who visited the site, shared their memories and opinions on our Facebook page, and followed us on Twitter. Soul Train is American history and American pop culture. Being part of SoulTrain.com was, in the immortal words of Don Cornelius, ‘a stone gas, honey!’”
Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker has been a biographer, entertainment journalist, and columnist for 18 years; his acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online for numerous publications including SoulTrain.com, Kalamazoo Gazette, WrestlingInc.com and Notion Magazine. Walker’s currently writing for EURweb, Concrete Magazine’s Concrete615.com, RealMenReport.com, and Hood Illustrated Magazine. Like him on Facebook, follow on Twitter @mrjoewalker, and visit his official website.