RIP Don Cornelius – a Chicago original

RIP to a Chicago legend. Don Cornelius. My parents would always tell me about how he started his career on Black-owned radio station WVON-AM in the 60s (VON=Voice of the Negro) that eventually evolved to Soul Train on Channel 26 & later syndicated nationwide. Reading Questlove’s post on Okayplayer made me remember the times I met the man himself. The first time was at the Monkey Bar in Los Angeles. Imagine a group of Black college kids with a chaperone in a room full of white guys in suits. We were on break from AFI (American Film Institute) seminars we’d won in a Sony Film college contest. We got bored & decided to leave & who was near the door inviting us in a familiar midwestern accent to stay was Don himself. “Y’all leaving? Y’all just got here.” Starstruck, we all chatted briefly with the legend before moving on to a restaurant.

Years later, while working in production at a local television station, a dear friend of mine had in his possession, a VHS copy of 2 vintage episodes of Soul Train airing on the NHK TV network. He had a friend on tour with Chaka Khan and had acquired them during a 1 month stay in Japan. There they were, 2 presenters, b-boys dressed head to toe in urban gear – baseball cap, large sunglasses, one even sporting a gold tooth – that introduced each episode in Japanese. He gave me a copy & I treasured it as a family heirloom. A few months later, I found myself at the National Association of Television Programming Executives conference in New Orleans. On my way back from a lunch break, who do I see in the hallway but Mr. Cornelius speaking to one of the affiliate TV station reps airing Soul Train. I waited patiently until he finished his conversation & said hello & asked him the burning question that my peers and I needed to know. “Sir, when are you going to air old episodes of Soul Train like you currently do in Japan?” He smiled and laughed “Now how do you know about that young lady?” You see it was either 1999 or 2000, years before youtube was born. I told him jokingly about my “informant in Japan.” Of course, after sharing how much the show meant to our generation, he told me to “wait patiently, it’s coming soon.” Well of course now you can catch re-runs in syndication & order clips from Time-Life video.

Don Cornelius was a pioneer. Without him, you wouldn’t have the many facets of Black music and culture on television. Clearly he paved the way for many of us. RIP and thank you. I’ve found a youtube clip from NHK, sans our Japanese b-boy presenters but you can clearly see the NHK logo in the upper-right hand corner at the 23 second mark.


Chicago viewers! Watch WCIU, Saturday, February 4th….WCIU and BounceTV will air a 7 hour Tribute to Don Cornelius with some of his best and most memoriable episodes of Soul Train. This Sat, 6pm-1am, WCIU, Channel 26 The U…….Tell a friend….and DVR it. Plan a Soul Train Party at your house…….
Posted by Paula aka Ms. Groove Parlor – owner since 1997 at 3:17 PM