I’m seeing a lot of people talk and write about Don Cornelius passing but do not seem to comprehend the legacy Don Cornelius established while he was here with us. Don Cornelius was a pioneer who built a Black empowerment framework that was also an economic engine and knew exactly what he was doing and succeeded. As a fellow Chicago native who knows my people, know and respect those who came before me and appreciate the path they shaped for me and you to move forward, we are going to discuss Don Cornelius legacy and contribution.
Don Cornelius is from Chicago and was definitely someone who grew up with love for his people. You can check his history where he was straight hustling to get his in the Chi before joining WVON radio in the 60s. WVON means Voice of the Negro in case you didn’t know broadcasted to the Black community back then. Martin Luther King Jr. would appear regularly on WVON and most likely Don Cornelius was inspired by his presence as well as the fact he broadcasted for his people. He also carried this on television at WCIU where Soul Train got it start:
However, the late sixties was a beautiful time for brothas and sistas as we became united. More people were moving from the South up North to Chicago and cats were establishing themselves and their identity as Black. Don Cornelius was throwing parties all around Chicago as a party promoter and this is where he wanted to promote a television show and used his media industry connects to host Soul Train in Chicago.
Now Soul Train blew up and Don Cornelius moved the show out to Los Angeles for a bigger audience. Now here is where we have to take a break because this is the moment of truth. When some of us brothas or sistas make it big, what do we do? Most of us start acting like we don’t know our Black people anymore and start trying to go “mainstream” hoping to reach a bigger audience. But Don Cornelius not only kept his show Black-orientated, he pioneered Black media as we know it today and built a Black economic framework upon his success.
Soul Train was not some dance show, it was a framework that Don Cornelius used to promote his people and promote peace, love and soul in the core essence. Let’s look at each element of the Soul Train show:
The Soul Train Line. This African dance ritual was designed to give people their moment in the spotlight and shine but most important, it symbolizes diversity as well as equality. Everybody had a chance to strut their stuff and that’s what was being promoted.
The Scramble Board. Sneaking in Black History lessons into a dance television show? Only a real brotha or a real sista would even go there and that what was done. This is just another example of Don Cornelius not apologizing to mainstream America for being Black and proud and representing his people and our culture.
The Soul Train Dancers. Contrary to what people want to believe, these were not random dancers but personas who expressed Black culture in all shapes and forms. Remember that television only show cornball Blacks but when you turned on Soul Train, you saw your own people being themselves and expressing themselves their way.
The Black-orientated Commercials. This is where your Black-orientated commercials came from, thanks to Soul Train. I know plenty of you cats remember Johnson Hair Products commercials and the curls and the other commercials that targeted African-Americans.
The Artists on Television. You would never seen groups like the Gap Band or Frankie Beverly and Maze on any other show back in those days but they had a venue on Soul Train and Don Cornelius brought them to us.
The Take Away
We have not mention other things Don Cornelius has done such as host the Soul Train awards to acknowledge our artists when the other award shows were pretending we didn’t exist or didn’t matter. Don Cornelius cared about Black people and represented our people in his heart and we don’t have cats like him around nowadays.
Everything I’m doing and talking about is exactly what Don Cornelius done with his time. I told you cats the first thing we establish for Black empowerment is a Black communication framework. Don Cornelius did that, creating the Soul Train franchise and on top of that foundation, promoted Black and beautiful worldwide.
Think about the Soul Train theme that showed a train going around the world, he was definitely on that bigger level back in the 70s showcasing our people for who we really are. That’s why we all remember watching Soul Train Saturday morning because we was watching us. That’s the takeaway from Don Cornelius legacy.
Don Cornelius created Soul Train and Black firms advertised on Soul Train creating demand for Black products and created jobs for Blacks in Black communities – he built an economic framework out of what he done. And with that said, I hope you fully know understand and appreciate Don Cornelius and his contributions.
Because you know full well I fully appreciate what Don Cornelius done and follow in his footpath as another brotha from Chicago doing whatever it takes to do for my people. If he accomplished all of what he done for our people back in the 1970s, then we can definitely create the same kind of frameworks today.
Don Cornelius, thank you for your contribution shaping Black music, Black media, Black culture, Black love and Black empowerment. Now that Don Cornelius with the elders let’s pray he look over us as we continue the mission he started and leave to us to take on.