The creator and the longtime host of the television music show ‘Soul Train,’ Don Cornelius, has died at the age of 75. Police were called to Cornelius’ home in Sherman Oaks at around 4 a.m. in response to a report of a shooting. The police found Cornelius dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Roughly one hour after the police arrived at his home, Cornelius was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Cornelius is a radio news announcer by trade but began to moonlight at WCIU-TV in the decade of the 1960s. While at the station, Cornelius played with an idea for an African-American version of ‘American Bandstand,’ the show hosted by Dick Clark. The very first episode of Soul Train debuted on August 17, 1970 on WCIU-TV. The show was syndicated in other markets across the country.
The show became the longest-running nationally syndicated television show in history, as it aired from 1971 to 2006. Cornelius stepped down as host of the show in 1993 but remained on board as the show’s executive producer. While holding this position, Cornelius expanded the show into an annual awards show as well.
“I have known him since I was 19 years old and James Brown had me speak on ‘Soul Train,’” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. “We have maintained a friendship for the last 38 years. He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level. Had it not been for Don Cornelius we would not have ever transcended from the Chitlin circuit to become mainstream cultural trendsetters.”
Cornelius recently talked about turning the television show into a movie. “We’ve been in discussions with several people about getting a movie off the ground,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the ‘Soul Train’ dance show, it would be more of a biographical look at the project. It’s going to be about some of the things that really happened on the show.”
Cornelius was arrested in 2008 for spousal battery and for dissuading a witness from filing a police report. He was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Cornelius was sentenced to three years of probation. Cornelius is survived by Anthony and Raymond, his two sons.
“God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of `Soul Train,’” said Aretha Franklin, who was one of the first performers on the show.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius,” Quincy Jones said. “Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was `Soul Train,’ that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. My heart goes out to Don’s family and loved ones.”
The former chairman of Motown Records, Clarence Avant, said the following:
“Don Cornelius’ legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history. `Soul Train’ was the first and only television show to showcase and put a spotlight on black artists at a time when there were few African-Americans on television at all, and that was the great vision of Don.”