Don Cornelius

I’m grieving over Don Cornelius. I loved soul train, and although it went toe to toe in the same late Saturday morning time slot as American Bandstand, Soul Train always won out. I’d watch the show and try to keep up with the gorgeous kids on the dance floor, wishing I could be one of them instead of myself, desperately wanting out of my body into one of theirs, cursing my awkwardness and humbled by their grace.

Don was ever handsome and velvet voiced. He stood still as everyone moved. He was tall and stately, which seemed to anchor the music and secure the beat, lending calm and gentility to the rhythm that is felt so deeply in your heart, that shakes your body up from the bottom to the top. Don was cool about it. Don was the best.

I guess I took the political importance of Soul Train for granted when I was a kid. I didn’t know or understand what it took for a program like that to be on the air. It was a big deal in terms of race and visibility for people of color. It was by itself its own civil rights movement and one I danced to religiously, yet then it was all down to the music and not about any idealistic vision. For that we have Don Cornelius to thank. He was a true visionary. He was a pioneer. He gave us to ourselves, us who love R&B and soul and pop and slow jams and funk and hip hop. I even cry when I think about watching The Commodores or Marvin Gaye or The Jackson Five or JANET JACKSON (MY FAVORITE) and the feeling I had that this was for me or about me and by me. I don’t know why I felt that, I just did.

Everyone I know is broken up about this loss, about what happened. It’s unexpected and too terrible to comprehend. My friend asked, “Don, I wish you had told us what you needed.” I wish people would tell us what they need, before it’s too late. I promise to tell you what I need if you promise me the same. Let’s be here for each other so that we won’t have to feel this again, this helplessness. The blankness of death. It’s bitter. It’s bleak. I don’t want to feel this. The emptiness overwhelms me and consumes me and swallows me whole.

What I want to remember is the tremendous achievements of Don Cornelius, what he brought to me, what he will forever be remembered for, all he did. The soul train camera would split and weave through the crowd and they moved with it and you could feel the exhilaration when the lens would rest on one then another. It was the power of the collective gaze finally brought to those so used to being invisible that being suddenly visible made us high. How much is visibility worth? It’s everything. It is proof of your existence. When you see me, I am here. When you see me dancing, I invade the moment and surround the moment and transcend the moment. When I dance, I am this fine moment and the world is my witness and there is nothing better.

Soul Train wasn’t just a kids music show, it was a grand entrance, an essential, empowering, addictive and ever important mirror and a proud and courageous wish for our future that we would grow out of this, become more from this, and because of this, we have.


11 thoughts on “Don Cornelius

  1. That was so beautiful! I too, like millions of other Soul Train fans am left speechless by this tragic news, but you managed to say what I’m sure all the soul fans are feeling! R.I.P Mr. Cornelius!

  2. Hit the nail on the head again! Im black,grew up in the seventies and that show gave us exposure like weve never had…showed who were and.who we could be and Im a terrible dancer! Lol You always tell it like it is and I couldnt say anything about the black experience any better..carry on M Cho..and god bless you!

  3. RIP indeed Suicide is a terrible thing i should bring back a play on that subject we did in the early 90’s i being a mixxed heitage White and Native looked to any empowering figure such as Don i try to meet that being a mixxed nation Actor locally and soon hope to bring that somewhat Acting Ability to University to try and be a some what of a figure head in my city of Prince Rupert BC canada i hope to incorparate the musical knowledge i have lerant from the hands of Don into plays i try to create. you will be Missed very much Don all my love to your family and friends.


  4. I is especially sad when someone who love and respect commits suicide. In this case, it came as a complete surprise. All we know is the public self, even if we aren’t on tv or in movies, or on the radio. All we know is the self that is presented to us. All I can say is that growing old is no picnic, and I am sure that many many elder people contemplate suicide, simply because they are old. Sometimes you just don’t want to wait for the inevitable, which could mean such a decline in quality of life that it just isn’t worth it. I don’t think that justifies suicide, but it is the kind of thinking I sometimes have. That kind of urge can come over you so quickly, literally a few minutes before you can be fine. We all need people to check on us from time to time, that we can be honest with when we think of doing such things. I remember how Soul Train brought a strange, exciting world of music into my brain. I had been largely unfamiliar with black soul before then. Thanks for introducing me to black American culture, Don!

  5. Great to see appreciation for such a creator and pioneer of the industry. We need more people in the industry today to step up and create opportunities for people of minority decent, because that is the only way the industry will change. Salute to the Don and all those who put your feet to the streets for change! Love peace and Sooooouuullll!

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