Wednesday, February 01, 2012


This post, originally published in 2010, is dedicated to the memory of Don Cornelius.
Last Wednesday, January 26, The Paley Media Center held a permiere screening and panel discssion of VH1's Rock Doc Soul Train: the Hippest Trip in America.

The makers of this film did an amazing job of capturing the historical significance of Soul Train as well as the accomplishments of its founder, owner, and host Don Cornelius.

Interesting Facts About Soul Train

* Soul Train is the longest continuously-running first-run syndicated television program in the country.

* The dancers on Soul Train were the heart of the show, but were not paid. As guest panelist and Soul Train dancer Tyrone Proctor said, "Dancers are often at the bottom of the totem pole."

* Chicago native and Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, an interviewer of players in the Civil Rights Movement, was one of the first African heritage people to own and run a television show. He hosted the show from 1971 until 1993 an and guest hosts appeared from then until 2006, including Mystro Clark, Shemar Moore, and Dorian Gregory. Cornelius, who owned the show for its entire run, sold it to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.

* Don was not a big fan of Hip-Hop, but aired the artists anyway because he wished to give people what they wanted.

The Panel Discussion

The post-screening panel discussion was made up of these folks:

Moderator: Danyel Smith, Music Journalist (who also appears in the film)

Guests: Big Bank Hank from The Sugar Hill Gang (of Rapper's Delight fame)
Questlove, Drummer for the Roots, Creator of Musical Score for the documentary
Tyronne Proctor, Soul Train Dancer, Choreographer

By the time all the panelists got up to the stage, Danyel Smith was choking back tears of deeply-felt emotion. I think the deep significance of this film and of the show had hit her.

Big Bank Hank, of Sugarhill Gang fame, said right after the screening: "I'm standing on history, on sacred ground." He shared that although Don was noted to not have big love for Hip-Hop, Mr. Cornelius gave Hank a warm welcome onto the set.

From the number of stories shared by Tyronne, the former Soul Train dancer, you could see that the dancers were truly the heart and soul of the show. In order to get onto the set, Tyronne was smuggled in via the trunk of a car! He talked about the anticipation of each weekend that the show was filmed, and of the reciprocal admiration between the show's dancers and its musical guests. Tyronne talked about how Don Cornelius made something which was audio - African American music - into something visual.

There were other former Soul Train dancers in the audience, and they shared their own vignettes from back in the day.

Questlove said although his parents were strict with him growing up, even on the tv-watching front, they did wake him up at 12:30 am so he could join the family in watching the 1:00 am airing of Soul Train (that's the time it came on in Philly). Since the early years of Soul Train episodes were not recorded, Quest worked his ass off to find and collect VHS recordings of the show from as far away as Japan. He is said to carry the whole show around in a bag of VHS tapes!

Here's an exerpt of Glide Magazine's interview with Questlove about his work on the Soul Train doc:

Soul Train is probably the most influential show of my entire life. It’s often pained me that I would have to go through extreme measure$ – and when you spell the word “measures,” there should be a dollar sign through the “s” at the end of “measures” – to collect the show. I guess the reason it’s so hard to get is, not foreseeing the future of VHS and DVDs, you know, a digital future, Don [Cornelius] really never made any publishing arrangements or artist arrangements for future reruns or reselling of the show. It prevented Soul Train from ever showing reruns, even though the original show lasted for a good 36 seasons.


Strange enough, the one of maybe four shows that I was allowed to watch in my childhood was Soul Train. So, this instantly became a labor of love because a lot of my memories of first seeing television, all of them have to do with Soul Train. It was kind of scaring people a little bit, because as they were showing me the reruns, I was recalling to them . . . At first, they didn’t believe me. They were like, “Ok, what three-year-old has a memory of Michael Jackson doing the robot for the first time?” It would be to the point where they would ask me, “Well, what are your memories of episode 206, with the Average White Band and the Main Ingredient?” And I’d be like, “Ok, they were performing on the floor. I remember Don Cornelius talking about collard greens and black-eyed peas in the introduction.” And they started jaw dropping, because they put the tape in, and you know, I’ve not seen this since I was a kid. It’s because it was the only thing I was allowed to watch. My parents didn’t want me sitting in front of a TV four to five hours a day. Instead, I sat in front of a turntable four to five hours a day.
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