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.