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Friend recalls Tuesday conversation with Cornelius: ‘He was very upbeat and even joking’


Don Cornelius

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Updated: March 3, 2012 8:36AM

T HE TRAIN HAS STOPPED: The news of “Soul Train” creator/host and former Chicagoan Don Cornelius’ death shocked the music industry and his fans.

THE 75-year-old Cornelius, whose legendary “Soul Train” dance show aired weekly for over 35 years, was found dead early Wednesday morning in his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

MARV DYSON, director of operations at Kennedy King College’s WKKC-FM radio, was crushed after hearing about his dear friend’s death. Dyson told me he last spoke with Cornelius around noon Tuesday to inquire if he had gotten Grammy Awards tickets for Dyson’s son, Jordan, a USC student, and according to Dyson, “he was very upbeat and even joking on the phone.” “On Tuesday night, Don left me three different messages between 7 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. on voicemail saying he had secured the tickets,” said Dyson. “We were friends for over 40 years, and I will miss him.”

I CALLED THE REV. Jesse Jackson Wednesday, and he told me since hearing the tragic news, he is kicking off Black History Month by dedicating his Saturday morning Operation PUSH forum to celebrating Don’s life and legacy by having the “Don Cornelius & Soul Train Day.” The public is invited to come out and celebrate his life.

I asked him about his longtime friendship with Cornelius, whom he first met in 1964 when Cornelius was a street reporter for WVON radio. “I first met Don when he would cover Dr. Martin Luther King’s open housing rallies in Chicago, and he felt that black artists needed a TV audience and at that time you only had ‘American Bandstand’ out of Philly with Dick Clark way before BET and MTV,” Jackson said. “So Don started his ‘Soul Train’ weekly dance show on the 43rd floor of the Board of Trade building in the WCIU-TV studios, and it became extremely popular. George Johnson, former owner and founder of Johnson Products, became the exclusive and very first sponsor of ‘Soul Train’ with his Afro-Sheen commercials.”

“Don and I always competed to see who had the biggest natural, but he always won,” Jackson laughingly said. “And Aretha Franklin called me this morning to verify if the news was true. His show was a groundbreaking transformer in the music industry by providing access,” Jackson said.

THE DONS: I ALSO TALKED TO local TV producer Don Jackson of Central City Productions, who first met Cornelius when they both worked at WVON radio. Jackson helped Don launch the original “Soul Train Music Awards” show back in 1987.

“Stella, at that time, other major TV music awards shows objected to the need for a soul music awards show,” Jackson said. “And I was pleased to work with Don in launching the ‘Soul Train Music Awards’ and getting the Tribune Entertainment company to partner with us and air the show live and in primetime. The show was an instant hit in the ratings and lasted for 20 years ending in 2007.”

“I last saw him at the huge Chicago tribute last year in Millennium Park where my wife, Rose, and I spent two hours with him backstage in his dressing room, and he looked great and was joking, and reminiscing about the times we spent in starting the awards show,” Jackson said. “His Chicago nieces and nephews were also there, and he didn’t seem depressed or sad. His death was truly a shock and in passing, “We wish him LOVE, PEACE AND SOOOOOOOOOUL!”

RADIO giant Herb Kent, who was also a longtime friend of Cornelius, will be among the panelists paying tribute to pioneer music producer Carl Davis at the Woodson Regional Library, 1 p.m. Saturday with moderator Clarence Waldron . . . Singer Eric Benet on Channel 7’s “Windy City Live” Thursday.

EATIN’ OUT: Musician Ramsey Lewis and the White Sox’ Paul Konerko and Gordon Beckham all seen chillin’ separately at LaScarola . . . The Hawks Viktor Stalberg and Steve Montador relaxed at HUB 51 . . . The Hawks’ Jonathan Toews and his brother David at the Palace Grill.

BIRTHDAYS: Christie Brinkley. On Friday: Justice Anne Burke, WGN-Channel 9’s Steve Sanders and Bonnie Spurlock. On Saturday: WBBM-Channel 2’s Jim Williams and Merritt Kotin. On Sunday: the Rev. Andrew Greeley and Michael “The Fly” Garcia. On Monday: Bob Djahanguir and David Milliner.Well, that’s Stella in the City!

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