It was Aretha Franklin who made Don Cornelius realise he had hit the big time. Just two years earlier, the impresario’s show Soul Train had been a Chicago thing, broadcasting local talent to local viewers. Now it was a national sensation and even the choosiest stars wanted to get on board. Franklin told him: “My kids love the show and I want to be a part of it.” Stevie Wonder improvised an ode to Soul Train. James Brown, convinced that somebody, probably a white somebody, must be behind such a slick operation, looked around its Los Angeles studio and kept asking Cornelius: “Brother, who’s backing you on this?” Each time Cornelius replied: “Well, James, it’s just me.” He wasn’t bragging. As the host (or “conductor”) of Soul Train from 1970 to 1993, Cornelius was an avatar of cool, with his glorious afro, wide-lapelled suits and avuncular baritone, signing off each episode with a funky benediction: “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace … and soul!” Billed as “the hippest trip in America”, Soul Train didn’t just beam the latest sounds from black America into millions of homes, but – with amateur dancers who became… Read full this story
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