Saturday, February 4, 2012

Don Cornelius

I wrote a response to my friend's posting at Bronx Banter and decided to reprint my response here...

The TV side of me owes a tremendous amount of respect to this brotha. It's such a shame he had to go out this way, but there is much love from the people he came from and helped raise in his way.

My sister Andrea said that Dick Clark tried to bite off of Soul Train in their second season and that there was such an uproar about it that Clark agreed to back off. The show was shown in the west for a few episodes, but never made it east. Also did not know that Rosie Perez was a featured Soul Train dancer back in the day. That's just like younger cats finding out Jennifer Lopez got her break as a dancer in Rosie's troupe on In Living Color.

We were watching a recast of a VH1 doc about Soul Train last night and as my teenage nephew Isaiah was watching the dancers, he said "So this is where the dances that are out now originated from!" I looked at him and said, "You're just figuring that out now?" and he nodded his head. His Mom pointed out that it went back even further to the early Jazz era with all the juking and jiving dances, and beyond.
It was interesting that Jeffrey Daniels, another featured dancer, virtually took credit for creating "The Robot", "Pop Locking" and "The Moonwalk", all of which Michael Jackson later revolutionized on the show when he appeared and later in concerts and television specials. I bet he was implying that the whole break-dance revolution originated from Soul Train, but while I'm not so certain about that, I'm sure not going to believe rapping and dee-jaying was a Soul Train specialty before it ever hit the Bronx (Thank you VH1 for inventing music videos, ha!)

Don Cornelius was not a fan of rap and hip-hop in any regard, but tolerated it as good business for his show and he was right to a certain extent. The problem for me, which led me to stop watching altogether in the eighties, was that his distaste was so obvious and condescending that it was insulting to me as a fan. Why put up with that when you had video shows (New York Hot Tracks and later Yo! MTV Raps) that treated their guests with far more respect? On the other hand, Cornelius embodied the thinking of the older generation that did not grasp that era of hip-hop and was even frightened by its imagery. I kind of think that it was that attitude that brought the show down after a while, and though it continued for quite some time after he left, it lost too much ground to both MTV and the emerging BET (which later became the embodiment of all of Don Cornelius' fears and has gone far below what early and middle age rap and hip-hop fans desired of our culture).

But I don't blame him for being out of touch in that respect; he was a savvy businessman and helped elevate the profile of much of black music through each generation from the early 70's on. His death makes me wonder the same way that Guru's passing made me think; someone that you knew well, but hadn't seen and thought about in a while until something major happens and now he's gone. I'd like to think something could have prevented this from happening to him, but that's neither here nor there. I'm celebrating the man's life and his impact on my cultural upbringing.

 For those of you who have only a notion or less than a clue of what I'm talking about, check out the wiki on Soul Train and a bio of its founder, Don Cornelius.

Editor's Note: I ran across this on Youtube a year ago; a fitting tribute...

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