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Cornelius remembered as ‘an American treasure’

Updated: March 3, 2012 11:34AM

News of “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius’ death Wednesday was greeted with sadness but also a sense of appreciation for all the Chicago native accomplished with his life and his ground-breaking show. Here’s a sampling of the reaction:

Aretha Franklin, an early “Soul Train” performer, called Cornelius “an American treasure.”

“God bless him for the solid good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide,” she said Wednesday, “and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of ‘Soul Train.’ ”

◆ Music magnate Russell Simmons posted a blog item about Cornelius, calling him “one of the greatest music legends there was.”

“Don Cornelius gave artists who had been segregated from most mainstream vehicles of expression a chance to perform in front of a huge national audience,” Simmons wrote. “It was a tremendous opportunity that changed their careers and the whole music industry. To win a Soul Train Music Award meant that the most sophisticated tastemakers in the world loved your work.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Cornelius “was a transformer.”

“’Soul Train’ became the outlet for African Americans,” Jackson said, adding that he talked to Cornelius a few days ago and that there were no signs Cornelius, who committed suicide, was upset.

“I first met Don in 1964, when he was a reporter with the iconic WVON radio station,” Jackson said. “Then, and throughout the course of his lifetime, Don was driven by a singular determination to tell the story of the African-American experience. Indeed, his coverage of Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s charge for open housing in the city of Chicago gave voice to the legitimate hopes and aspirations of a community pinned under the historical weight of disadvantage.

“Inspired by the civil rights movement, Don Cornelius transitioned from journalism and ventured into the realm of music and entertainment. With his own $400, Don rented out the WCIU-Channel 26 studios and started ‘Soul Train.’

“It exploded in popularity, and after a year, with the sponsorship of Johnson’s Products hair company, ‘Soul Train’ went national — and the rest is, quite literally, history.

“Don was a personal friend. He shared many wonderful times in my home with my wife and children. And in times of triumph and challenge, he was always there. A part of my soul has traveled with him today.”

◆ Producer and music mogul Quincy Jones said: “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.”

Clarence Avant, former chairman of Motown Records, said: “Don Cornelius’ legacy to music, especially black music, will be forever cemented in history. ’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.”

◆ Singer-actor Genuwine remembered the smooth-voiced producer as “someone who paved the way for black music.” On Twitter, he wrote: “I still remember my first time on ‘Soul Train.’ What an experience.”

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