'Soul Train' memories; soulful keys at SOB's; Lovelace celebration

Ron Scott | 2/8/2012, 6:16 p.m.

Don Cornelius was a television trailblazer, and with "Soul Train," he introduced Black culture to the masses. The show was so addictive, most folks would not be caught outside grocery shopping or anything on Saturday morning.

Of course, if you were going to a Black barbershop or hair salon with a television, you could bet your bottom dollar the station was locked on "Soul Train." Its varied viewership ages included adolescents, teenagers and elders.

During its 35-year history, "Soul Train" became the longest running first run, nationally syndicated program in television history, with over 1,100 episodes from the show's debut in 1971 through 2006.

It was the show to see the hippest West Coast fashions, dances and the best in R&B talent in the world, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mandrill, Luther Vandross, Vanessa Williams, the Main Ingredient, BeBe Winans, Robert Palmer, Elton John, Bobby Womack, Blue Magic, Al Green, New Kids on the Block, the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson. Cornelius introduced established and aspiring artists such as Wild Cherry, Vanity 6, Xscape and Outkast. Jazz artists included Nancy Wilson, Herbie Hancock and Hugh Masekela.

For major record labels, "Soul Train" was the ticket to national exposure for their aspiring artists, and the exposure usually led to major tours with established artists. It's difficult to understand the magnitude of artists, entertainers and actors (e.g., Melvin Van Peebles, Ben Vereen, Mr. T and Shaquille O'Neal) who appeared on the show, but if you consider the incredible variety of personalities that came through the world famous Apollo Theater during the same time period, you would be on the right track.

For me, "Soul Train" had everything: great music from the opening theme song to the end. Cornelius was the coolest in his tailor-made suits and huge ties, his big afro and booming voice. He was so humble during his interviews with guests-never taking anything for granted-and brought up some little tidbit the artist didn't know he knew. He always did his homework when it came to guests.

Then there was the "Soul Train Line," creativity from dancing to their style of dress. The "Soul Train Line" became an institution; you can go to any big party in America and you can bet before it's over, there will be a "Soul Train Line."

The "Soul Train Gang," as Cornelius called them, had their own steps that were definitely different from New Yorkers', but we could always use a new step or two. All the guys will remember the young Asian lady, Cheryl Sung; with the long hair down her back-she was the topic of many conversations.

The "Soul Train Scramble Board" was so easy, we were always waiting for someone to screw up for a good laugh, but it never happened. All of these elements made "Soul Train" the best program on television. It also made Cornelius the first Black owner of a nationally syndicated TV franchise, setting a standard for Black entrepreneurship.

Cornelius opened the door for "Soul Alive," a New York City dance show for teenagers that appeared in 1976-1977 with its host Jerry Bledsoe, a noted New York City radio personality. "Soul Train" was also the catalyst for BET and MTV.