Going for Guinness: Dyana Williams and Philadelphia’s Record-Breaking Soul Train Line

Dyana WilliamsIt is a well known fact that no family gathering–or soulful gathering, for that matter–is complete without at least one Soul Train line.  Be it a wedding, family reunion, homegoing celebration, or just a standard issue Tuesday afternoon at the office, when the time is right and the spirit hits, everyone in the room will separate into two lines, shoulder to shoulder, and one by one dance their way down to the end.

Philadelphia radio pioneer Dyana Williams, co-host of the Soulful Sunday radio program on RADIO One Philadelphia’s WRNB, has dedicated the past four decades in the business to filling music lovers‘ ears with soul-filled sounds.  She has paved the way for women and professionals of color in the radio, entertainment, and media industries; co-founded the IAAAM (Association of African American Music) Foundation with Sheila Eldridge; and spearheaded the legislation that would go on to create Black Music Month, among numerous other accomplishments.  But perhaps her most exciting recent accomplishment is leading Philadelphia–or as she calls it, “the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection”–to score a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest Soul Train line.

So, what exactly was Ms. Williams’ inspiration to attempt such a feat?  Simple: Unity.  “Three years ago I went to [WRNB Operational Manager/Program Director] Elroy Smith and said I wanted to create an event that brings together various elements of our audience and the City of Philadelphia.  Media never reports the positive aspects of Black gatherings,” Williams shared with SoulTrain.com.  Smith was open to the idea, and Williams began putting together a plan.  A year later, Williams, Smith, the RADIO One Philadelphia team, and a few thousand revelers gathered on the steps of the infamous Philadelphia Art Museum (you know the ones–think Rocky) to make their first attempt.  While they did not quite beat the standing record of 211 dancers (set in 2011 by students at Beverly Hills High School in Beverly Hills, CA), it was a celebratory moment nonetheless, and the organizers planned to try again another time.

When Soul Train creator Don Cornelius passed away in February of 2012, Williams seized the opportunity to honor and pay homage to the man whose vision was responsible for the iconic party staple.  “When Don died, everyone was trying to figure out how to honor him,” Williams said.  “We decided to attempt for the record now.”  As fate would have it, another local group in Philadelphia was in the midst of planning their own Soul Train line celebration, and approached WRNB for publicity and promotional support.  Great minds may think alike, but it can perhaps be said that even greater minds collaborate and pool their resources, and soon the groups joined forces to make a unified attempt at breaking the standing record.  With the help of journalist and community activist Sheila Simmons, Williams and her crew were able to secure an official Guinness Book of World Records judge and monitors to be present for the big event.

And so, on February 13, 2012–the day before Valentine’s Day, which can only be the best kind of omen–Dyana Williams and WRNB’s E. Steven Collins, along with thousands of Philadelphians–many decked out in 70s gear, converged once more upon the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, ready to break a record.  With DJ Touch Tone on the ones and twos, Williams officially kicked off the party by being the first to work her way down the Soul Train line.  Even Philly’s mayor, Michael Nutter, got into the groove and eased on down the line.  After all was said and done four hours later, an astounding 291 dancers had roboted, snaked, moon-walked, pop-locked, and shaken what their mama’s gave them down the Soul Train line, and the City of Philadelphia walked away triumphant with a world record!  Williams noted that the crowd that assembled that day was truly representative of the city’s cultural and socio/economic diversity; it was a moment that included any and everyone who wanted to take part, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, physical limitations, gender, or sexual orientation.

Dyana Williams, Sheila Simmons, and others officially presented Mayor Nutter with the city’s Guinness Book of World Records certificate for the longest Soul Train line on January 2, 2013, a perfect way to kick off the new year.  Williams intimated that, with forty Philadelphia area public schools slated to close in the coming months, this certificate of achievement was a welcomed bit of good news for the city.  When asked whether the City of Philadelphia plans to re-create their record-breaking Soul Train line, Ms. Williams had this to say, “Absolutely!  The City of Philadelphia is ready to defend our title!”

She added, in closing, “Soul Train is part of the American and global landscape.  This is a show that was exported to the world at large.  Our music, our fashion, our language, our style came from Soul Train.  Where else could you see your favorite artists?”

You can watch Dyana Williams and her fellow Philadelphians celebrate Don Cornelius and break the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for the longest Soul Train line here.  To learn more about Dyana Williams, visit http://rnbphilly.com, http://influenceentertainment.com, and follow her on Twitter @Dyana Williams.

–Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social.  Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.

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