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Against the (Soul Train) Grain

Don Cornelius was born September 27, 1936.  He started in the insurance business before going into broadcasting in 1966.  He worked as a substitute disc jockey on t.v.’s Black View of the News before pitching the idea of what would become Soul Train.  Inspired by American Bandstand, Soul Train spent 30 years on-air.

Soul Train premiered August 17, 1970.  It aired Saturday mornings, attracting a lot of children and teenagers off from school.  Early supporter businessman George Johnson helped make Soul Train big.  It was syndicated in 1971.

With his deep voice and good looks, Cornelius was the ideal host. He gave the audience such future legends as Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, etc.  The show did not limit itself to Soul music, however. Rock favorites such as the late Robert Palmer, David Bowie and Duran Duran appeared, as did Jazz and Reggae stars.

In 1987, Cornelius started the Soul Train Music Awards, whose first hosts were Dionne Warwick and the late Luther Vandross.  The first show honored Stevie Wonder for outstanding career achievement, giving him the Heritage Award.  Performances spanned from Whitney Houston to the late Michael Jackson.

In 1993, Cornelius gave up his duties as Soul Train host. In ’95, he launched the Lady of Soul Awards.  Debbie Allen was given the Lena Horne award and Salt ‘N Peppa received the Aretha Franklin Award. By 2005, Soul Train had been seen in 105 cities, reaching 85% of black households, according to the show’s website.  In December 2007, the show lost its distributor when Tribune Entertainment closed that division of the company. 

In 2008, Cornelius was arrested and charged with spousal battery.  This led to a bitter divorce the following year.  Cornelius suffered strokes and various ailments that required surgery during this time.  He wanted to settle the divorce before he died.  He was granted one but never recovered.  On February 1, 2012, Don Cornelius’ body was discovered by police officials.  He suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  He is survived by two sons, Anthony and Raymond.

I would be remiss if I didn’t close out this column by wishing my readers, as Cornelius did every week, “peace, love, and SOOOOUL!”

Hello, my name is Andy Sullivan. I received my bachelor’s degree in business from Mid-Continent University in May 2009. I began writing for Beech Tree News in July 2009.  I enjoy playing guitar, the occasional Wii game, writing, and listening to music. I write a sports blog that can be found at If you have a comment, feel free to leave it in the space below.

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