Valentines for Don Cornelius, Part 3: The Bouquet–An All-Star Tribute

Editor’s Note: SoulTrain.com contributor Joe Walker developed a three-part tribute to Don Cornelius several weeks prior to his passing, to run throughout the month of February as a special column in honor of Black History Month.  With the help of some of the most beloved figures in soul, R&B, hip-hop, and gospel, the last installment of this special column is the perfect finale to an extraordinary man and his extraordinary life.

Here in this All-Star tribute finale, multiple generations of entertainment – from the icons we honor and respect, to the beloved established artists of today, to the artists and personalities of the future –all come together for this epic SoulTrain.com exclusive to give Don Cornelius his flowers.

“I just wanted to say this time I hope we all keep Don’s memory and legacy alive every day, month and year. I was at Don’s great memorial in L.A. and so much love was in the house: Magic Johnson, The Whispers, Smokey Robinson, Rev. Jessie Jackson, Cedric The Entertainer, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Don’s sons Tony and Ray Cornelius, and Stevie Wonder and George Duke sang and played their asses off for Don, as did Donnie McClurkin who also did a great job of hosting. Also on hand were about 50 Soul Train Dancers; great celebration of Don’s life. We love you, D! Happy Valentine’s Day forever up in Heaven!! You will never be forgotten!” – Bowlegged Lou (of Full Force)

“My brother and dear friend Big D – Don Cornelius had a heart of hearts. Through the Paul Anthony Live Life Give Life Foundation we will ensure his mark is left.” –Paul Anthony (of Full Force)

“Don gave not just Black America but the world a stage, a beat, and view into the world of soul. He was instrumental in offering wider exposure to African American artists as well as creating opportunities for talented dancers. The Don was a cultural icon, visionary, and a trailblazer who captured the world of Soul Train with Love, Peace and SOOOOOOOOUUUUUULLLLLLL! I love the man as a mentor, a friend, and thank him for giving me my start into showbiz as a Soul Train dancer and preparing me for my life’s journey as an entertainer-turned-actor on top of the world. If they ever bring Soul Train back, I would love to follow The Don’s footsteps and be the new host! Love, Peace, and Cuttymacking.” – Louie Ski Carr

“Mr. Don Cornelius was the one who made the following things happen: I had a little advantage where dancing on Soul Train is concerned; I was able to go to Osaka, Japan for 10 years back and forth due to dancing on Soul Train. I was able to get jobs and dance work of all kinds due to dancing on the show. It actually made my life more exciting to this day. I still get jobs from it. I just did a documentary last month and it was and will be one of the most special projects I’ve ever done. I even met my now fiancé – Tomi Jenkins, lead singer of the group CAMEO – on Soul Train. So, when it all comes to a close, I have to say thanks Don for starting Soul Train. You have done a lot of things, and one of the things I thank him for is Damita Jo Freeman. She is one of the main reasons I had to move to California from Chicago. I danced on the very first Soul Train when I was a young teen in Chicago. One year later I came to California and went on the show. The first day I was there Don put me on the center riser, which you usually have to earn. But I was placed there the first day on the show. I’m still very close to lots of the dancers I met on the show to this day, and those friends are priceless. Thanks for starting Soul Train, Don Cornelius.” – Nieci Payne

“The one or two times I was on Soul Train, they tipped their hat to me and said, ‘You’re an important voice Al; you’re not right down the pipe as a Soul Train artist, but people need to know about you.’ And I was given a chance to do what I do. That stuff’s really important. I would love a continuation of Soul Train today, and Don’s mark is there. Don created this thing that was the heart and core of Soul Train that we will miss and long for and hope to recapture. It was honest, and sincere, and spiritual, and religious and truthful.” – Al Jarreau

“Exposure always benefits an artist; the more exposure, the better. Don Cornelius had [Soul Train] all over the place. Folks back then waited for that particular hour, and that was the thing to do at that time. It was great exposure for [our] group.” – Clarence “Chet” Willis (Ohio Players)

“Don was a man who was a game changer. I remember as a young boy when I grew up, every Saturday we would get up and watch Soul Train. That was just part of the ritual on the weekend. He brought so many artists…we’re talking pre-video days before record companies spent money on videos. Soul Train was the video! You watched Soul Train to get an idea of the artists you wanted to see, whoever it was. You saw them on Soul Train and could make a visual connection with who they were. He was at the forefront of being able to bring the artists before the audience, and put a face with the music.” – Najee

“Don Cornelius has made tremendous contributions to entertainment! And for me, a young woman of color, I was able to see artists I admired and respected and who looked like and sounded like me!  Then fast forward to my first appearance on Soul Train after my first single “Thanks For My Child” hit #1 on Billboard: we were taping the show and it took a couple takes to get my name right. I, of course, was so nervous. So at one point, just before introducing me again, Don Cornelius says to me, ‘You ok? You look nervous.’ I said, ‘Well, I actually am a bit nervous. I mean, I have been watching and loving this show and you for years.’ He then, with that deep voice, said to me, ‘Well, now, you ARE the show!’ That stayed with me through that performance and the rest of my life. I truly love, respect, and appreciate Don Cornelius. I was blessed to be on the show again and I will never forget those experiences. Thank you, Don Cornelius, for a place where artists like me could be inspired and supported. And, thank you for allowing me to be a part of history and for those words that will forever be in my mind and my heart!” – Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley

“Don Cornelius gave me some really good advice. At that time my vocal career had far surpassed my comedic and impressions career. I do all those things now, but then they took me serious as a vocalist. People didn’t realize I did impressions and comedy. People know I’m more of a well-rounded entertainer. At that time Don knew me as a vocalist. He asked me about my time singing lead for the Jazz Crusaders; I stepped in once Randy left. I was surprised Don was so well versed on the things I’d been doing as a vocalist. I was pleasantly surprised. And the Crusaders…they were mean! They were mean as hell! And I said it on camera. When we cut to commercial Don said to me, ‘I know a lot of things happen to a lot of us, but you don’t always have to speak on it. Just say, ‘I learned a lot, or something like that.’ I took that with me.” – Vesta

“Don Cornelius defined an era. He created a national platform for African American music and young people that was nonexistent. He was our Dick Clark.” – Richard Smallwood

“Don revolutionized the Black community and made it ok to enjoy us and our culture on television.” – Hezekiah Walker

“One word that comes to mind when I think and reflect on Don Cornelius: History! I remember as a child in the 70s looking forward to Saturday to watch Soul Train. This show would teach me swag, fashion, the latest dances, and about all the entertainers of the present and past of that era. In 1985/1986, I and the rest of U.T.F.O. were on Soul Train and we preformed our songs “Bite It” and “Fairytale Lover” from our first album. Don Cornelius supported new up-and-coming artists. Also, he has saved many careers of entertainers that had faded or were trying to make a comeback. He will be truly missed and is a great blessing to our Black History!” – Mix Master Ice (of U.T.F.O.)

“Don was an icon and shaped the way we moved dressed and lived during the Soul Train era. I am honored to be a part of history, a legacy to never be duplicated or imitated. When we appeared on Soul Train he kept messing up our names calling us Men At Work. I corrected him and everybody was like, ‘Oh My God… I can’t believe you did that’. I was like hey he better get it right. Overall I am thankful for him showing us the coolest side of being Black and proud. God bless your soul. Thank you, thank you, THANK you.” – Dave Tolliver (of Men At Large)

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“Don Cornelius is one of the greatest entertainment innovators of our lifetime. Both my mom and uncle both danced on Soul Train as teenagers. To say Soul Train has been an inspiration to me is a massive understatement. He introduced Black music culture and radio to television. Soul Train was as essential to my childhood as Saturday morning cartoons. I had the honor of traveling to Africa with Don many years ago and spoke with him on many occasions outside of my personal musical performances on the show. He poured into me as a mentor and musical/business father figure. Don Cornelius is definitely the Godfather of Urban Entertainment!” – Montell Jordan

“The loss of Don Cornelius is heartbreaking. Where would Black music be without Soul Train? What a legacy to leave behind…and he was always the sharpest cat in the room.” – Kem

“Don Cornelius’ position as a tastemaker and overall renaissance man in the industry is unparalleled. The magnitude of what his successes symbolizes has left a permanent impression on my life as they have on many others. One thing that impacted me the most about Mr. Cornelius was the standard of excellence he seemingly effortlessly adhered to consistently. He was a representation of what a class act is to be and never compromised the quality of his brand.” – Bamahadia

“Don Cornelius was a genius and a true trailblazer who showed DJs how to articulate our words properly, also how to host, engage, interview and introduce an artist with exceptional style and grace. He embodied the essence of what true legends are made of.  His style impacted DJs, publicists, journalists and promoters alike.  His voice was amazing and commanded attention while his fashion sense defined what a true Black professional looked like on TV.  I am forever grateful for all the many contributions his brand has created from the thousands of careers it sparked to the many trends it created. I salute this legend. It’s a shame America didn’t give this man the proper credit nor the recognition I felt he honestly deserved while he was alive!  We have got to do better and start showing our icons better respect while they are ALIVE! I am forever grateful and owe a huge debt of gratitude to this amazing man. It’s official; you just heard the whistle!” – “Mr. Official Whistle” Cool V

“We’re talking about Don Cornelius – the creator of Soul Train. In the middle of our country, at that particular time, it was fully against Blacks. Soul Train gave us an outlet not just to be heard, but to be heard all across the world in a major way. It defied the odds and made that possible, it created generations of Black superstars.  Don made [Soul Train] what it was. I don’t know if we’ll ever have that again.” – Tank

“Soul Train was an outlet for a lot of musicians who couldn’t get in TV. From the race issues and everything else America has gone through Don was a leader, an entrepreneur, and paved the way for so many others to follow. He gave people of all races a chance to enjoy soul music.” – Robin Thicke

“On so many levels from just being stimulated as a viewer and lover of music, to being proud to be Black; from having that hour of Black faces all over my TV to the entrepreneurship, Don inadvertently inspired us all!” – Anthony David

“Don Cornelius has impacted me on many, many levels; as a label owner and as a person who has pretty much defined my own career by maintaining creatively. Don inspired that by the way he developed the show with his vision and maintaining ownership. But on the same side he allowed all of us, including myself, a visual to what we loved and celebrated; the first time seeing artists, how they looked and talked, came from watching Soul Train. That can’t be overlooked, especially in hip-hop. Every single person who’s ever celebrated a moment on a Soul Train line at a wedding, at a family reunion, or whatever function, has to realize how much enjoyment that man has brought into their lives. Every bad day he’s made good because of what he organized and created. America has been able to grow and develop, and Don was a part of that foundation, the equality of minorities as well as educating people.” – Eric Roberson

“Don Cornelius laid the tracks, and we all rode the train to a critical shift in music, dance, and entertainment. He gave us a platform to showcase the wide range of African American art and performance. It was this huge, joyous party that was even more significant when taking into account the challenges people of color were facing in the 1960 and 1970s. I’ve always felt that revolution starts on the dance floor, and nothing illustrates that better than the Soul Train line; that cultural space where everyone is unshackled and can dance, free of labels or contrition. That space is where I make music and perform, and I don’t know what kind of person I’d be without it.” – Tunde Olaniran

“Like everyone else Soul Train was my Saturday morning religion. So before we entered middle school, we knew what great artistry was–we knew real musicianship. We understood our history. We could see ourselves on television–in the commercials, in the dances, in the clothes, in the spirit of the language Don Cornelius used.   In later years I realized that Don Cornelius actually owned the show. For a Black man during that time period–that was unheard of. What he did was perform magic with the skill and the unassuming manner of David Copperfield. There will never be another like him.” – Ericka Blount Danois (author of the forthcoming book Soul Train’s Mighty Ride: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show,  to be published by Backbeat Books in August)

(A special thanks to Bowlegged Lou, Madeline Smith, Makeda Smith, Jasmine Sanders, Olivia Dikambi, Barry Benson, Joe Gordon, Kelvin Leach, Amadeus, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO APPEARED IN THIS ARTICLE)

–Mr. Joe Walker

Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com and TheUIMag.com.

3 Comments

  1. Cool V says:

    Thanks Joe so much for giving me an opportunity and the music industry a voice and a platform to pay our respect to a legend that touched all our lives keep up the good work brother!

  2. Jay says:

    What everyone fails to discuss is what did Magic Johnson and his crew pay Don for his library, if Don was having financial problems? The value of what Don sold should have left money in the bank for the remainder of his life, were he paid an honest and fair value??????? Maybe, he’d still be here????????

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