For multi-platinum-selling singer/songwriter/producer Bowlegged Lou of Full Force, it’s a day he will always remember. “We built a good relationship with Don,” he says. “I grew to love and respect him. I would call him sometimes just to say ‘Hey.’ When his birthday would roll around I had it on my calendar. I haven’t missed a year yet!”
Legendary Soul Train dancer Loui Ski Carr is one of countless thankful for Don’s life. He says, “The Don gave me my first stage to dance on. Now I’m dancing on movie and TV and theatre stages all over the world. Thank you, Big Don! Happy B-day!”
Dancer Dena D, who also spent time showcasing her talents on Soul Train, has this to say: “It was an honor to finally meet Mr. Don Cornelius and to become a dancer on his great innovative show. Like most people I grew up watching Soul Train; I loved seeing him host his show with the one-of-a-kind finesse only he could give to the show he created. Happy Birthday Don Cornelius! I thank you for creating this great platform for dancers like myself to showcase their talents, and also having great artists on the show. We love you, remember you, and continue to celebrate you and yours!”
Award-winning journalist Ericka Blount Danois, author of must-have book Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments, says what she wrote is a dedication to the legacy Don left behind. “He was flawed, like we all are, but there are some people who persist in following their passion despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He was one of those people. When you go for several months without a salary, insist on perfection at every level for a brand new show, and leave family behind to do it, it’s less about what you want to do and more about what you have to do. It’s a dedication to him because it gives an honest portrait of a man that succeeded against all odds–how he did it and why he did it.”
Hip-hop icon Big Daddy Kane told Danois that he broke his arm during a motorcycle accident, but he went on tour anyway because he watched Al Green on Soul Train perform with a broken arm, she says. “Artists were inspired, dancers became more creative, business people found someone to emulate, the guys on the corner were impressed by someone who talked and dressed like them. When you watched Soul Train you saw a little bit of yourself.
“As former Stax chairman Al Bell wrote in the foreword to the book,” she continues, “Soul Train captured the best of us. We were expressing ourselves freely. Don educated us about historical and political figures. Don was a class act. He dressed classy, was articulate and was well versed in the music. On the show we witnessed the best of our musical artists in all genres. Production quality was top notch. There was diversity in front of and behind the camera. Don carried himself with dignity and a Chicago cool that everyone wanted to emulate, black or white.”
Soul Train will “live on forever,” Danois adds. “It still airs in reruns. The Soul Train Awards still continue. At every family gathering there is a Soul Train line. People tell me that Soul Train changed their lives. He will live forever in each new generation’s memory.”
The iconic Soul Train creator, born Donald Cortez Cornelius on September 27, 1936 in Illinois, is worthy of an event marked by the grandest of pageantry, a spectacle so overtly bodacious no one venue, or city, could host it. In theory, an annual celebration of Don’s birth should be, like New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day, one huge party celebrated across the country!
There should be a Soul Train-themed parade with the best bands in the nation marching the streets, chart-topping singers and dancers performing live on floats, giant balloons of recording artists of all eras floating above, and a crowd of thousands on hand waiting with joyous anticipation to see Don bring up the rear. As he’d come into view all would begin singing “Happy Birthday!”
Sadly, Don Cornelius’ parade has already passed; he left this life February 1, 2012. He did not take his acclaimed legacy or the mark he left on entertainment history with him. What he left for us can’t be written on a decorated sheet cake. No amount of candles would be enough to equal the number of lives he touched. We can still celebrate what he will continue to mean. In his honor we can still make a memory.
And this is how we’re going to do it: First, go to your nearest florist and purchase a single flower of your choosing. Take this flower to a music store, or a department store music section, and place it on the ground.
Next, visit a party store; purchase a single helium-filled balloon of any color. You could even but one of big shiny ones that say “Happy Birthday” on them. Take the balloon outside, close your eyes, and then let the balloon go. As you’re releasing it, shout “Sooooooooul Train!” as loudly as you can.
Lastly, take a picture of flower you’ve left, snap a memory of your balloon release, and Tweet them @SoulTrain #HappyBirthdayDonCornelius, share them with Soul Train’s Facebook page, or post them to Instagram.
This is how we’ll celebrate the memory of Don Cornelius together!
–Mr. Joe walker
“The Word Heavyweight Champion” Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer and columnist for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, 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, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.