Thursday, February 9, 2012


He founded ‘Soul Train’ in 1971, brought  R&B into America’s living rooms and broke down racial barriers through the nationally syndicated feel-good-music-and-dance show that he hosted from 1971 and 1983. However, Don Cornelius couldn’t find peace for his own soul or break loose from his train of personal troubles. On Wednesday, February 1, Cornelius, 75, was found dead in his Los Angeles home and it was confirmed by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

While he brought soul and music to million across the world through Soul Train, Cornelius’ personal life was full of discordant tunes. Plagued by health problems for the last three decades of his life, he survived a 21-hour operation in 1982 to correct a congenital malformation in blood vessels in his brain. In 2008, he was arrested and charged for felony domestic violence against his estranged wife Victoria Avila-Cornelius, who also filed multiple restraining orders against him. While in 2009, he pleaded no contest to one count of “corporal injury resulting in traumatic condition of a spouse,” was put on probation for 36 months, and ordered to pay over $1,000 in fines.

“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,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, also an African American activist. Soul Train changed America’s pop culture, brought more African American artistes to a wider audience and was a springboard to greater fame for many others like James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
Until it was rested in 2006, Soul Train could be said to have influenced many generations of African American artistes. No wonder, Aretha Franklin, whose rise to fame could be attributed to the show, said Cornelius’ death was ‘sad, stunning, and downright shocking … a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large.” For legendary music producer, Quincy Jones, it was more.  Before MTV there was Soul Train, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius,” said Jones in tribute to Cornelius. “Soul Train was a huge part of my Saturday mornings growing up,” tweeted hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Soul Train” also gave rise to the Soul Train Music Awards and the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards.
Cornelius would also be remembered for his timeless quote with which he closed each episode: “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” Sadly, for the Soul Train founder who went on to become a broadcasting icon, had a Chicago street named after him in 2011 at the 40th anniversary of the show’s syndication and was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, there was no soul, music or dance to accompany his train to the great beyond; only a trail of blood and disbelief from million of fans in America and across the world.

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