Don Cornelius is dead in an apparent suicide, TMZ and The Associated Press are reporting. The 75-year-old creator of "Soul Train" shot himself to death Wednesday morning at his Los Angeles home, police said.
"Soul Train" had a vast and lasting influence on pop culture, and seeded -- or at least seeded the idea -- of MTV. (There were many MTV fathers, certainly, but he was one of 'em.)
He was a tastemaker who tasted everything, from Motown to R&B, and taught generations of kids to dance, or try to dance, or try to move.
"Soul Train" ran for decades, and thus, influenced not just one of those generations, but a couple. It aired from '71 to the mid-2000s [production ended in 2006; syndication continued to 2008] and may still be going on in some iteration for all I know. The Soul Train Awards, are of course, still continuing. This was the urban "American Bandstand," and Don, the urban -- and more urbane -- Dick Clark, to whom he was so often compared. To give you but the slightest flavor of how groundbreaking "Soul Train" was and how considerable Cornelius's feat, he got this on the air at a time when there was no show on TV devoted to black American culture and ten years before the launch of MTV - which initially only aired videos by white acts. In fact, "Soul Train" was hugely popular with white kids too - it was "crossover" even before the TV industry invented the term "crossover."
Here's a clip, showing Cornelius at the outset, doing what he always did -- introducing acts, and so much more. After this, a clip of Gladys Knight getting the Soul Train lifetime achievement award last year, crediting -- among many -- Cornelius ("I thank you from the bottom of my heart..."). OK, having some technical difficulties with that clip, as we say in the trade, but do check out this old Cornelius interview with James Brown. And you'll definitely want to go here to read Tom Joyner's good appraisal of "Soul Train" and Cornelius. And the last clip in my "Soul Train" parade below - Michael Jackson...Thanks to VH1, which has a great tribute.