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.
Before “Soul Train” appeared on the scene, the first Black dance show was “Jocko” Henderson’s “Rocket Ship Show” on Channel 13 in New York from 1958-1959. Unfortunately, he wasn’t on long enough to give Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” a run for its money, but a lack of sponsorship at that time may have been its downfall. “Bandstand” aired in 1957 and ran through 1987, but it proved to be no competition for “Soul Train.”
Fortunately, with YouTube, we can always see “Soul Train” and check its hip, fearless leader Cornelius in action. His closing became a national hip quote: “And you can bet your last money it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!”
Lonnie Liston Smith doesn’t perform in Gotham often enough, so this will be a very rare appearance for the keyboardist-composer whose career spans over 40 years. On Feb. 9 (tonight), he will perform at the eclectic club SOB’s, 204 Varick St. in the South Village. When Smith’s name is mentioned, ears perk up. He has influenced generations of young players, who have acknowledged his rhythmic swing, harmonic acumen and composing skills.
Smith’s compositions for Pharaoh’s CDs “Upper Egypt, Karma,” “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” “Summum, Bukmun, Umyun” and “Jewels of Thought” were essential to the band’s sound. Smith also recorded with Argentinean saxophonist Gato Barbieri and recorded two albums with Miles Davis, “On the Corner” and “Big Fun” (Columbia Records). Smith’s own recordings received rave reviews, particularly “Expansions.”
He will be appearing with two other keyboardists, including Brian Jackson, a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer best known for his collaborations with Gil Scott-Heron in the 1970s. Jackson has worked with Will Downing, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, as well as recorded his own solo albums.
The other keyboardist will be Mark Adams. Over the years, Adams has worked with Ron Carter, Bobbie Humphrey, Dave Valentine and Ronnie Laws. He has recorded three CDs under his name. Adams refers to his music as “the beginning of the new movement of soul jazz.” This will be a soulful night of keys; three incredible pianists going from jazz to funk and all around. For more information, call (212) 243-4940.
Singers Connection Open Mic & Jam will be presenting a special tribute to the late Jimmy Lovelace, the renowned jazz drummer, on Friday, Feb. 10, 8:30-11 p.m., at University of the Streets, 130 E. 7th St. on Avenue A.
Lovelace has recorded with such greats as Wes Montgomery, Tony Scott and George Benson. He has influenced generations of young musicians.
Singer Okaru Lovelace, who hosts the Open Mic & Jam every Friday, thoughtfully started the weekly series to recognize Jimmy Lovelace’s strong relationship with Muhammad Salahuddeen, the founder of the theater.
At the theater, Lovelace and many musicians played regularly and conversed with Salahuddeen about the music they loved into the wee hours. After their death, she wanted to keep their spirits alive with live jazz music in the theater.
Everyone is welcome to come and sing, play, perform spoken word or just enjoy and celebrate Lovelace’s life-his birthday was earlier this month. The house band for this special night will include musicians associated with Lovelace.
There is no cover charge for singers, but they will be charged $5 per song. There is a $5 admission.