I was ten when “Soul Train” first hit the small screen, and there had never been anything like it on television. Yes, there was “American Bandstand,” but this was so much cooler, with black kids of all shades and sizes, and more Afros per square inch before, or since. It was like a televised dance party with a bunch of my friends. That is, if the party had brighter lights, and my friends happened to be the “Soul Train” dancers, with stylish clothes. And forget the records; the recording artists were right there. Lip-syncing, sometimes (which was kind of lame), but lots of times they sang live, and you’d groove to Kool And The Gang, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, Al Green, Barry White (with the entire Love Unlimited Orchestra, mostly white people on the string instruments but they could GROOVE), James Brown (who sweated profusely but never slipped while he danced). Aretha. Stevie. Everybody wanted to crash that party, even Elton John and David Bowie. My sister Susan and I grew up standing in front of the set, shaking our respective “groove things” and putting our hands together until we learned some of the moves; Mom would take an occasional look and comment about the clothes: “I love the colors!!” And, of course, the legendary “Soul Train” dance line was a part of every wedding, reunion, and bar mitzvah I’ve ever gone to. Frankly, it’s not a party until you have a “Soul Train” dance line. That’s just a fact.
This cultural phenom started small. In 1970, a local Chicago DJ named Don Cornelius wrote, hosted, and produced a televised pilot version of his radio show with his own money (a whopping $400). Cornelius set the tone each week with his velvety voice and killer instinct for talent and trends. The show was such a hit that the next year it relocated to Hollywood and was syndicated to stations across the country. (And can we talk about the power of hearing the phrase ”..this has been a Don Cornelius Production“ at the end of every show? This cool black dude with shades, a suit, and a ‘fro, owned the show! And that blew my mind!)
“Soul Train,” like that dancing choo-choo that opened the show each week, was the little engine that could. It ran for a staggering 35 years, bringing African-American music and culture (and sometimes a little history lesson) into living rooms across the country and around the world. “Soul Train” was a democracy of dance. And forty years later, at a time when the country seems so polarized, ”Soul Train” is a sweet reminder of how sharing a culture got us kids in sync, dancing to the same beat. Thank you, Don Cornelius, for showing the world that black is beautiful, and that our music rocks the world. Now and forever, “we wish you love..peace..and SOUL!”