Mr. T is an iconic figure of the 1980s. Born Laurence Tureaud, he is mainly known for his roles as B.A. Baracus in the 1980s television series The A-Team and as boxer Clubber Lang in the 1982 film Rocky III (his famous line in the film “I pity the fool” became his catchphrase). Before he became famous, he did bodyguard work for many celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, and Diana Ross.
Also known for his trademark African Mandinka warrior hairstyle and gold chains, Mr. T was so popular he had a cartoon series on network television in 1983 and even had his own cereal and a doll modeled after him.
Even Don Cornelius could not ignore Mr. T’s popularity. Thus, he invited Mr. T to the September 1984 taping of Soul Train to speak to the Soul Train Dancers as well as to perform his new single, a rap song entitled “Mr. T’s Commandment.”
Mr. T received thunderous applause from the Soul Train Dancers after Don’s introduction. He said it was a dream come true for him to be on Soul Train after having watched it on TV for many years. He told the dancers that it was not an easy road to get where he was, telling how he and his family grew up poor and on welfare. He implored them to work hard, train, practice and not to let nobody tell you what you can’t do. “If you were to tell someone you were going to have your own TV show they would doubt you,” he said. “Don’t even tell people what you are going to do, just do it.”
Mr. T also warned the dancers that on the road to success people will try to bring them down, and if they are not strong they will succumb to using drugs and alcohol to cope. He said that for him, the biggest high is when he wakes up see another day to which the dancers applauded.
Mr. T also stressed the importance of individuality, pointing out his own unique look. “I didn’t want to look like anybody else,” he said.
He then performed his rap single “Mr. T’s Commandment” which sounds like something Kurtis Blow or the Sugar Hill Gang might have done. In the song, which was primarily aimed at kids (several of whom were seated on the stage by him), he continued to emphasize the importance of being one’s own person, listening to one’s parents and striving for goals and being successful in whatever one does. Set to a funky, electro beat, the song had the Soul Train Dancers clapping along enthusiastically. Mr. T even did some quick little moves that elicited some cheers from the dancers. He received a thunderous ovation from the dancers after he finished performing.
Released on the Columbia label, “Mr. T’s Commandment” peaked at number 75 on the R&B charts but didn’t chart at all on the pop charts. It didn’t matter; Mr. T was not only an icon, but also someone to be looked up to for being his own person and succeeding despite the odds. His one time appearance on Soul Train was a testament to the fact that, as he stated, dreams do come true if you work hard and believe in yourself.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian