Soul Train History Book: The Last Soul Train Christmas Starfest

In November 2005, Soul Train taped its eight and final Christmas Starfest special on Paramount Studios’ stage 30, the same soundstage where Soul Train had filmed since August 1993. I, along with several other Soul Train dancers, was fortunate enough to participate in the taping of the special during the course of one weekend.

The Soul Train Christmas Starfest had its inception in 1998 and was filmed annually at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium until 2003 due to budgetary constraints. That year, it was shot at a different location to resemble a more intimate setting, inside a set made up to look like a living room with a fireplace as several Soul Train dancers watched and listened to various artists perform Christmas carols. In 2004 and 2005, the special was shot at Paramount Studios.

Stephen McMillian_Soul Train Christmas Starfest 2005I was in awe of how the Soul Train stage set was transformed into a winter wonderland of sorts, with light artificial snow falling, huge snowflakes dangling over the main stage, Christmas trees, and life-size toy soldiers on the stage.

2005’s special was hosted by singer/actor Wayne Brady, who interacted with the dancers very warmly. Performers that year were Brady, Tiffany Evans, Mary Mary, Avant, Eric Benet, LaToya London, and Shashanna Beane, all of whom were very kind, gracious, and a joy to meet and interact with.

All of the dancers were instructed to wear all white for the special (which is normally a no-no for television tapings). I wore a white derby (one of my trademarks when I was a dancer on the show), a satin white shirt, white slacks, white shoes, and shades with white frames. My outfit prompted Don Cornelius to compliment me by saying, “This brother’s wearing a nice outfit.”

Unlike the regular Soul Train tapings, Don was more involved and intimate with the dancers for the special, maybe because there were only about 20 of us as opposed to the 50 dancers that would attend the monthly tapings. He was easy to work with during the taping, instructing us as to where to stand and what we should do and not do.

The special’s taping went along very smoothly and quickly, as opposed to the long hours the dancers would be on set during monthly Soul Train tapings. After both tapings, Don treated the dancers, the production staff, and guests to lunch at Paramount Studios’ commissary, and we were fed well with dishes such as turkey, stuffing, greens and other goodies.

After the special’s Saturday taping, some of the dancers, still dressed in their white outfits, went salsa dancing at a club in Los Angeles. I was a bit jet-lagged from my flight from New Jersey to Los Angeles, and I was somewhat tired by the end of the taping and wanted to retreat to my hotel room, but Eric, Soul Train’s dance coordinator, insisted I go to the club. Needless to say, it was a fun evening.

When the special aired in December, performance clips from previous Soul Train Christmas Starfest specials were interspersed with the current performances. It was great seeing the special and remembering what a great time I had that weekend.

Little did I know that this would be the very last Soul Train Christmas Starfest. What many of us also didn’t know was that two months later, January 2006, would be the final taping of the Soul Train weekly series. Had I known that, I would have been at the very last taping of the longest- running syndicated program in television history. But I am thankful I was on the set for the special  and Don interacting with us dancers as well as being on stage 30 one last time

To paraphrase late comedian Bob Hope’s famous saying at the end of his specials, “Thanks, Don Cornelius, for the memories!” 

Merry Christmas, readers, and much love, peace and soul!

—Stephen McMillian

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

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