Don Cornelius, 1936–2012

Recording Academy Trustees Award recipient dies at 75
  • Photo: Rick Diamond/WireImage.com
    Don Cornelius
February 01, 2012 -- 1:35 pm PST
By David Konjoyan / GRAMMY.com

(In 2005 "Soul Train" founder Don Cornelius was honored with The Recording Academy's Trustees Award. The following tribute ran in the GRAMMY Awards program book that year. "Soul Train" ceased production in 2006. Dan Cornelius died today at the age of 75.)

"It's the Soooooooouuuuuul Train!"

With that exuberant call, producer Don Cornelius' landmark urban TV dance show "Soul Train" became a groundbreaking sensation for black America, bringing a nationally syndicated, wholly urban TV program to a mass audience for more than 30 years now. The show became a must appearance for A-list soul stars, young breaking acts, and even such crossover megastars as Elton John. Since its 1970 launch, what started as Cornelius' local Chicago brainchild has branched into specials such as the "Soul Train Music Awards" (now in its 19th year) and the "Soul Train Lady Of Soul Awards."

In 1969, as a Chicago radio announcer, Cornelius produced a pilot he dubbed "Soul Train." Impressed, Sears Roebuck gave Cornelius funding in exchange for the rights to use the show to promote record players. Soon Cornelius debuted "Soul Train" on Chicago UHF station WCIU. It became a local hit, which attracted the Johnson Products Company (Afro-Sheen) to sponsor a nationally syndicated version. Soon, the show hit nationwide with producer Cornelius hosting in a suave style that in comparison made the music and dancers that much more exciting.

Today, critics site "Soul Train" as a prominent cultural touchstone that brought African-American music and lifestyle into millions of homes. "Soul Train" currently reaches 85 percent of U.S. households, and though he has relinquished his hosting role, Cornelius, in partnership with Tribune Entertainment, has become a prominent TV producer. Meanwhile, the "Train" chugs along as the longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated TV program ever.

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