Business News Obituaries

Soul Train founder dies

By | Published on Thursday 2 February 2012

Don Cornelius

The creator and original host of long-running American music TV show ‘Soul Train’, Don Cornelius, has died at his LA home, having seemingly shot himself. He was 75.

Cornelius was working as a DJ and journalist in Chicago in the late 1960s when he first had the idea for ‘Soul Train’, which first aired on the city’s WCIU TV station in 1970. He soon had the programme networked across the US, partly by persuading big name black artists to appear, which appealed to even more conservative network chiefs, and crucially by persuading the advertising industry that they should be targeting the young black viewers which were the programme’s core audience.

Though the show was particularly ground breaking not only for being the first programme to champion primarily music emanating from America’s black community, but also for developing an audience from all parts of American life. And as some of the acts that ‘Soul Train’ had first exposed became the biggest pop stats in America, and the world, the show went from strength to strength, with its dancing audience and Cornelius as host proving as popular as the acts who guested.

As ‘Soul Train’ boomed Cornelius pursued other music business ventures, some using the ‘Soul Train’ brand, in particular the spin off awards shows. Cornelius himself continued to front the main ‘Soul Train’ TV programme until 1993, and stayed on as producer until the show’s end in 2006. Although it continued to enjoy some successes, for the MTV generation, and with hip hop becoming the dominant genre in the black community, the show had lost its edge by the 1990s, though the awards shows remained big news.

After his show finally disappeared off TV screens five years ago, Cornelius became increasingly reclusive. Public attention mainly fell on problems in his personal life, in particular when in 2009 his estranged wife filed two restraining orders, and the music mogul pleaded guilty to spousal abuse. At the time he also said he had “significant” health issues. The exact circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear, though police confirmed he died from a self-inflicted gun shot.

Paying tribute to Cornelius yesterday, producer Quincy Jones told reporters: “Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was ‘Soul Train’, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched”.