Beginning February 5, 2019, the BET cable network begins a new series, “American Soul,” that follows the story of Chicago radio disk jockey and newsman Don Cornelius and how he eventually builds his nationally recognized show, “Soul Train.”
The program debuted in Chicago in 1970 and immediately exposed a large syndicated audience to some of the best soul stars of the time. For the most part singers lip-synched. A rare exception was James Brown who chose to perform live.
Here’s a clip from the upcoming BET series.
Don Cornelius, played by Sinqua Walls, is pushing his idea for “Soul Train” to Gladys Knight, played by Kelly Rowland.
In 1973 Cornelius asked Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to write him a theme song for the show. After the song was composed the thought was to call it “Soul Train.” But Cornelius balked and wanted, a decision Cornelius later said was “the dumbest move I ever made.””Soul Train” was out. “T.S.O.P”(The Sound Of Philadelphia) was in. The performers were “MFSB” (Mother Father Sister Brother), a racially mixed studio orchestra formed by Gamble and Huff.
The theme song won the 1974 Grammy Award For Best Rhythm & Blues Instrumental Performance. The single reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two straight weeks in April of 1974.
Enjoy the T.S.O.P. Orchestra and the Three Degrees.
Cornelius said it was true his show was designed very much like Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” but with an emphasis and focus on black music, fashion and dance.
“There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity,” he told The Associated Press in 2006. “I’m trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.”
There were white artists, too, (Captain and Tennille, for example) that enjoyed exposure to black audiences.
In 1993 Cornelius stopped hosting and a series of others took over.
“I took myself off because I just felt that 22 years was enough and that the audience was changing and I wasn’t,” he said.
Seven years ago today, February 1, 2012, Cornelius died at the age of 75 in his home in Los Angeles. He suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.