LOS ANGELES — Don Cornelius, who with the creation of “Soul Train” helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting edge style, died early Wednesday of an apparent suicide. He was 75.
Los Angeles Police Department officers responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home at around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter.
A police cruiser sat parked in the entryway of Cornelius’ home on a two-lane stretch of Mulholland Drive in the hills above Los Angeles. News cameras camped outside as drivers on their morning commute drove by.
“He was a transformer,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told KNX-Los Angeles. “’Soul Train’ became the outlet for African-Americans.”
Jackson said he talked to Cornelius a few days ago and there were no signs Cornelius was upset.
Others also expressed their grief.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius,” said Quincy Jones. “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. My heart goes out to Don’s family and loved ones.”
“I have known him since I was19-years-old and James Brown had me speak on Soul Train,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement from New York. “He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level.”
“Don Cornelius’ legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history,” said Clarence Avant, former chairman of Motown Records. “’Soul Train’ was the first and only television show to showcase and put a spotlight on black artists at a time when there were few African-Americans on television at all, and that was the great vision of Don.”
“Soul Train” began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006.
It showcased such legendary artists as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.
“There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity,” he said in 2006, then added: “I’m trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.”
“Soul Train,” with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not, however, an immediate success for Cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble and cool manner.
Only a handful of stations initially were receptive. – Washington Post
BONUS: DJ Wonder’s Don Cornelius Tribute Mix [via Devi Dev]