Iconic music producer David Foster and Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera wrote a timeless heart warmer when they penned “You’re The Inspiration”. On it Cetera sings with beautiful diction and emotion, “You should know, everywhere I go/you’re always on my mind, in my heart, in my soul.” Those lyrics were likely not intended for late Soul Train creator Don Cornelius initially. If yours is one of the millions of lives he touched during his life and career, it may be simple to adopt those words in gratitude to express the lasting impression he left.
One person sure to find those lyrics relatable is Full Force member Bowlegged Lou, though the multi-platinum-selling songwriter/producer could just as easily come up with his own. “I loved him,” he says, the two men were close friends for more than twenty-five years. Cornelius made his last television appearance on the TV One documentary series UNSUNG, specifically the episode dedicated to the careers of Full Force. “He made that appearance just for me and Full Force after I spoke to him by phone,” Lou says. “He was such a great and humble man who I feel was never given enough accolades and just due when he was alive, for him to hear them and to smell those roses.”
A few months prior to the shocking news of Cornelius’ tragic passing, a conversation with Lou began to orchestrate what became a bouquet of love in the form of an all-star tribute article on SoulTrain.com. Sadly Cornelius never got to see it. “I celebrated Don’s life while he was alive and not just when he passed,” Lou says.
As University of Maryland professor and acclaimed journalist Ericka Blount Danois began writing the biography of Soul Train and its forty-year history, she found with each word used to detail memories of the great television institution, the book became more and more a love letter to the efforts of its creator. “Don was someone who had done so many great things and he paved the way for so many people, and I was writing about some of the history only he had,” she says. The surprise of his passing affected Danois personally and professionally, as it transpired during her writing process. “It was devastating; I had to really examine his life a little deeper, and start thinking about what drives someone who has done so much for others. I started talking to people about who he was, and given how he died it was tricky.”
Cornelius, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot February 2, 2012, was “a private person,” Danois says, and people close to him thought that he was funny and warm, but the general public thought him aloof and not much of a people-person. “With suicides there’s often a pattern, but Don was different; he was older, he had health issues, he had personal issues, so I had to examine him more. And it changed the book itself because it made me examine the effects of Hollywood on what seemed to outsiders to be a fabulous life.”
Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records mogul T.I. knows all too well about outside perception and inside actuality. Despite the Atlanta-native hip-hop star’s tremendous success, he has dealt with his share of adversity under the public microscope. T.I. says he felt Cornelius’ decision “was tragic and extremely unfortunate, it was a sad day for music, it was a sad day for Black people. However, as a race and culture Blacks have endured the worst of the worst, but we’ve found ways to celebrate and rise above.”
The spirit of Cornelius and the appreciation of him should be no different, T.I. says. Lou agrees, adding, “He was a legend and he was an important institution to America, most notably Black America. Don passed February 2nd and I spoke to him a few days before that day, and he was cool with no hints of trouble. You never know what somebody is going through in their lives until you truly know for-real-for-real.”
If there was a chance to have spoken with Cornelius only moments before he decided his fate for certain, what would you have said to him to possibly sway his decision? Award-nominated star of film, stage, and music Tamela Mann says that is a tough question. “I would have needed to be around him for a minute, just really been there with him. I would have asked him to think things through; I’m sure I would have gave him some good God encouraging word.”
Clarence “Chet” Willis of groups Ohio Players and The C-Dub Project also has a religious sentiment for Cornelius. He says, “I pray that his soul is resting comfortably in the arms of our God. He was a true pioneer in the entertainment field and his influence was far reaching. He and Soul Train impacted every artist and entertainer I think then, and for possibly generations to come. He brought joy and light into millions of homes.”
You should know everywhere you go, be it home or far away, Don Cornelius will always be on our minds, in our hearts and souls. Whether Cetera sings it, or Bowlegged Lou, or anyone else, Cornelius was an inspiration.
Finding the right words to express your feelings for someone can be simple. “God bless Don up in Heaven for eternity,” says Lou, with his owns words giving Cornelius more roses.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and feature writer for City Locs, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.