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Don Cornelius spoke of ‘Soul Train’s’ power in 2010 Chicago Sun-Times interview

Updated: March 3, 2012 11:32AM

Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a Q&A that was published in the Sun-Times on Sept. 3, 2010:

Q. Why did “Soul Train” resonate with so many viewers?

A. The format was an idea whose time had come. Even though “Bandstand” had been around for a long time, there was nothing that kids in the music business who happened to be black got very excited about.

Q. Was it difficult to get singers to do the show?

A. There were individuals at the time who were on the proverbial wish list, and before we had to wait too long, they decided to come in. Among the first were the Jackson 5. But we had to go after major people who were coming out of Chicago like the Chi-Lites and Curtis Mayfield. Jerry Butler helped me a lot in the early days to procure talent. Then Motown started to take notice and send people our way.

Q. Could you see something special in Michael Jackson even at such an early age?

A. You kinda couldn’t miss it. He always had it. We were told he was 8 years old when they appeared on our show, but we found out in recent years that he was actually 10. But even at 10, he was something special.

Q. How do you define soul?

A. I don’t know anybody who can define it. It’s like trying to define hip-hop. You can’t just call it black music. Maybe it will take a few more generations of music lovers to eventually define it.

Q. There’s great footage of Aretha Franklin performing. Did anybody do soul better than her?

A. She is and always will be the first lady of soul. There’s nobody who ever did it like her.

Q. Who was the greatest male soul singer, in your opinion?

A. Stevie [Wonder] is the epitome of soul.

Q. What was your favorite moment in the show’s history?

A. Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin doing a duet on “Ooh, Baby Baby.” And anything with James Brown playing live on our stage.

Q. Why did you walk away from “Soul Train”?

A. A guy like me can’t be doing “love, peace and soul!” shtick for the rest of his life until people start to say what’s he doing that for? You gotta know when to get out. I loved it, but I just thought somebody younger should be doing it. And the mission got served. If your mission is to provide exposure and suddenly everybody is providing that same exposure, well, it’s time to go.


Anybody you couldn’t get no matter how hard you tried?

A. Nobody I’m willing to mention, but they know who they are.

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