Soul Train had, and still has, many fans all around the world–including those who remember watching the show during its original run and others who became fans by way of the recent rebroadcasts of vintage episodes in addition to the release of classic Soul Train performances in the Best of Soul Train DVD boxed set.
Soul Train conducted interviews with fans of the show to get a broader perspective of what it means to be a true Soul Train fan. First up, Doreen Alimand of Orange County, CA, and Lee Roddy of Chicago, IL give their insight on what it was like watching the longest running syndicated dance show in television history from its early days of Afros, platform shoes and bell bottoms up until its latter years of flashy suits, Jheri curls and big hair.
Soultrain.com: Did you grow up listening to soul music?
Doreen: Yes! Music was always in our house. When I was 2 or 3 years old, I would always know the latest dances. Music has always been a part of me.
Soultrain.com: You watched Soul Train from around the time it first aired, right?
Doreen: Yes. I was about 12 when I started watching Soul Train in 1971. I was so impressed. It was the coolest thing on TV. I watched American Bandstand too, but Soul Train was a lot more cooler. I loved the way the people on the show danced.
Soultrain.com: Were you influenced by the fashions and styles that the dancers wore on Soul Train?
Doreen: Yes! I was very affected by the way people dressed on the show. In high school in the 70s I was very fashionable and was quite the dresser because I was always trying to be cool like the kids on Soul Train.
Soultrain.com: Did you have any favorite artists that you remember seeing on Soul Train over the years?
Doreen: I loved a lot of the artists, but about 25 of them really impressed me: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Al Green, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls, The Jackson 5, and Barry White.
Soultrain.com: What were your impressions of Soul Train’s host Don Cornelius?
Doreen: Don was like the president. He was so gracious, so handsome and very dignified. I loved him and loved his voice.
Soultrain.com: Did you have a favorite dancer on the show that you admired or who stood out?
Doreen: Patricia Davis. I always admired how she wore her hair and the way she danced.
Soultrain.com: Did you ever have any secret desire to dance on Soul Train?
Doreen: I never thought I was good enough to go on Soul Train. But I always danced and entered dance contests in high school.
Soultrain.com: How did the recent death of Don Cornelius affect you?
Doreen: It was so sad. It felt like a chapter in my life was closing. Don Cornelius will always have a place in my heart. I will always love him. I will never forget him.
Soultrain.com: What has Soul Train meant to you overall?
Doreen: I believe Soul Train shaped who I am: a lover of music, people, and looking good!
Soultrain.com: Lee, being that you are from Chicago, your parents actually have history with Soul Train’s original roots in Chicago, right?
Lee: That’s correct. My father danced on the first three episodes of the local version of Soul Train and my mother went to school with Don Cornelius’ niece, Rose Cornelius.
Soultrain.com: What are some of the memories your dad told you about being on the show?
Lee: Don Cornelius was strict. My dad wore a hat to the first show, he wore it cocked ace-deuce, and Don told my dad to take it off. (Laughs). He also said the set, which was taped at the Chicago Board of Trade Building, was real tiny. People would get into fights to get camera time and records would skip as they were being played, but people in Chicago loved the show.
Soultrain.com: Do you remember watching the local version of Soul Train?
Lee: Yes, up until it went off the air in 1979 or 1980 when Clinton Ghent became the host after Don Cornelius moved to Los Angeles. Whereas the national version of the show featured more of the bigger name acts, the Chicago version featured mostly up and coming acts. Also the dancing was very different than on the national version.
Soultrain.com: What are your earliest memories of watching the national version of Soul Train?
Lee: For me, when I was a baby, the animated train (during the show’s opening credits) got my attention. This was when “Hot Potatoes” was the show’s theme song.
Soultrain.com: Who were your favorite artists that performed on the show over the years?
Lee: There were so many but among them were The Jackson 5, basically anyone from the Jackson family. Also The Sylvers, the Motown artists, the O’Jays–whom I loved–and Sister Sledge. My first crush was on the group’s lead singer Kathy Sledge after seeing her the first time they came on the show.
Soultrain.com: Was there one artist that really stands out in your mind that performed on the show?
Lee: Anita Baker! I loved when she came to the show performing tunes from her album Rapture. I began to have crushes on girls with shorter hairstyles after seeing Anita perform on the show.
Soultrain.com: Do you have any favorite dancers from the show?
Lee: Going back to the seventies I loved Damita Jo Freeman, Scoo B Doo, Fred “Rerun” Berry, and Patricia Davis. In later years, I liked Derek Fleming, Reggie Thorton, Nieci Payne, and Barbara Scott. I had a crush on Barbara! (Laughs) You were one of my favorites too in the show’s final years. You stood out. You were doing your thing!
Soultrain.com: Thanks, brother! (Laughs) Did Soul Train influence you in any way in terms of the fashions worn on the show?
Lee: Absolutely. I loved the ways the guys would wear certain styles on the show. When I was in sixth grade, I picked up on Derek Fleming’s trademark foxtail and I began to wear one in school. I almost got in trouble for it because my teacher thought I was wearing it to represent that I was in a gang. I told her I was in a gang, the Soul Train Gang! (Laughs)
Soultrain.com: Did you ever want to dance on Soul Train?
Lee: I am far from a dancer! (Laughs) I watched the show more so for entertainment and the styles worn on the show. I had two left feet! I only danced in private. If I could’ve gone on Soul Train, I would have been more of a character than a dancer. (Laughs)
Soultrain.com: What are your views on Soul Train in the seventies and eighties?
Lee: There is no comparison between the two. Soul Train in the seventies can never be duplicated. By the eighties, the show began losing its sizzle. In general, I remember the seventies more so for the uptempo dance music and the eighties more for the ballads with artists such as Luther Vandross and Anita Baker dominating that era.
Soultrain.com: What are your recollections of Don Cornelius as host over the years?
Lee: I was very impressed wit him. He was one of my idols coming up. He was just so cool. This was who I wanted to pattern myself after. Don was the ultimate perfectionist.
Soultrain.com: Did you ever have an opportunity to meet him?
Lee: Yes, last September when a street was named after him here in Chicago and an outdoor concert was held to commemorate Soul Train. I was able to get backstage and meet him before he went into his limousine. I said, “It is an honor to meet you and be in your presence.” He was very polite. He saw that the T-shirt I was wearing had his picture on the front and back. He tugged at it and said, “Nice shirt.” He also met my son and said to him, “What’s up little man?”
Soultrain.com: After having met him just last year, his recent death must have been very shocking to you.
Lee: Yes. It really bothered me a lot with me being a big fan of his.
Soultrain.com: What would you say is Don Cornelius’ legacy?
Lee: He influenced African Americans as a whole. He is iconic. There would be no BET, MTV or VH1 if it weren’t for Don Cornelius and Soul Train.
In addition to being a journalist, Stephen McMillian is also developing creative projects within the entertainment industry.