Soul Train History Book: Richard Pryor Hosts Soul Train

Richard Pryor hosting Soul TrainWay before Soul Train began having regular guest hosts in the fall of 1993 after Don Cornelius stepped down as host, the program had its very first special guest host 40 years ago: The legendary comedian, Richard Pryor.

Pryor and Cornelius were good friends before Pryor became well-known. Pryor actually made his first Soul Train appearance in 1973, in a cameo guest spot in which he plugged his current film, Lady Sings the Blues, and upcoming film, Wattstax. He also comically reminisced about his days growing up and surviving in Peoria, Illinois, and had the Soul Train Gang cracking up.  Cornelius let him introduce the group Friends of Distinction as well as interview them in his comical manner.

Perhaps Pryor’s comedic bit convinced Cornelius to let Pryor come back two years later to be host for an entire episode.

Airing on June 14, 1975, from the time Pryor introduced the episode to the time he closed it, he was hysterical throughout with his nervous facial expressions, jokes, and body language.

For instance, when Pryor introduced popular Soul Train regulars James Phillips and Sharon Hill, who were about to do the Soul Train Scramble Board, he fumbled and referred to the Scramble Board as the “Scrabble, er, Scramble Game,” which had everyone on the set cracking up.

Pryor was also hilarious during his interviews with the guest performers Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and South Shore Commission, as well as with his attempt to do the Campbell Lock dance step after he introduced the song “Dy-no-mite.”

Popular Soul Train regular Joseph Chism was given the distinctive honor of presenting Pryor with a platinum record for his comedy album That Nigger’s Crazy, which was recorded at Cornelius’ Soul Train Club in San Francisco in 1974. Chism also congratulated Pryor on winning a Grammy Award for that album, as well as for winning a Writer’s Guild Award for co-writing the hit comedy film Blazing Saddles.

Pryor then performed a comedy routine about white churches and black churches, imitating a highly emotionalized black preacher with such precision it had everyone in the studio bowling over with laughter.

Cornelius returned for the end of the episode to show Pryor how to close out the show. In Pryor’s comical manner, he mocked everything Cornelius did, right down to doing an over-the-top version of Cornelius’ signature closing, “love, peace and soul.”

Having Pryor as a guest host was a fitting way to close Soul Train’s fourth season, and the episode was one of the highest rated episodes in the program’s 35-year history. Indeed, from Pryor’s hosting duties to great performances by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (who sang their vocals live on this episode), to the South Shore Commission as well as the Soul Train Gang’s great footwork, this was a totally delightful episode.

For trivia buffs, this episode marked the last time MFSB’s “T.S.O.P.” was played as the Soul Train theme. When Soul Train’s fifth season began on August 23, 1975, a new theme song entitled “Soul Train ’75” by the Soul Train Gang (a vocal group, not the program’s dancers) would be the program’s theme song up until the early half of its sixth season. Revamped and updated versions of “T.S.O.P.” were utilized for the program from 1987 to 1993, and from 2000 to 2006.

Richard Pryor appeared as a guest on Soul Train for the third and last time on its December 12, 1976 taping with actress Pam Grier. At that time, they were dating and filming a motion picture entitled Greased Lightning, which Pryor discussed, about the black racing car driver Wendell Scott.

The fact that Soul Train was able to attract popular comedians like Richard Pryor on the show was only further indication that it was continuing to make even more headway and break new ground as an all-around entertainment platform.

—Stephen McMillian

Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian, choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.

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