On February 1st, Don Cornelius was found dead at his home in Los Angeles with a gunshot wound to the head. Shortly after this discovery, authorities ruled this finding as a suicide. That morning I was running errands before class when my mother called me with the sad news. It changed my entire day.
I am a huge fan and admirer of the style and attitude of the 1960s and 70s. Last year I received the Soul Train DVD box set as a gift and spent a couple of days absorbing all of those episodes. As I returned to my dorm to read the developments of the story, I couldn’t help but feel even more devastated by Cornelius’ passing. The story was not the main headline for any news outlets. Actually, the miniature bulletin about his death had already shifted down to make room for other mediocre stories. There was no sense of pause or remorse or even recognition for the impact this man had on society and culture as a whole.
For those who might not know, Cornelius was the creator and host of a TV show called “Soul Train.” It is one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history and played a critical role in spreading the music of black America to the world, providing exposure to artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and The Jacksons.
The impact this show made was not only limited to music. It also influenced fashion, culture, and connections between cultures. Essentially, Soul Train exposed its audience to a free and fresh state of mind.
Even though there was an outpour of tributes and sympathies from artists and activists who had worked with Cornelius, it didn’t seem enough. I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but African-Americans do not make up a high percentage of suicide victims. It was very hard for me to grasp what could have possibly pushed Cornelius to go to that extreme. One would think the life of a legend should end peacefully. Could life really be that bad? All the people who owe their success to Cornelius, where were they? It made me realize that we never really know what someone else is going through, especially if we don’t make the extra effort to be a true friend.
I decided to dedicate my show that week to Soul Train. An hour of funk and soul, I described each artists experience on the show and plugged the VH1 documentary about Soul Train. You can listen to the episode below. As always, I wish you, and brother Don, love, peace, and SOUL.