Pop culture icons like Don Cornelius and Dick Clark are irreplaceable. They will never be duplicated, their shadows are inescapable, and no one can fill their shoes. Each of them have flames that will burn forever.
It is possible, however, for someone to honor their memories through inspiration. They could follow their ideals, walk the path they tread, and find warmth beneath their shade. Cornelius and Clark lit torches with their eternal flames, passing them on to Nick Cannon and Ryan Seacrest.
The creator of Soul Train, Don Cornelius recognized in the ‘60s that television lacked an outlet for soul music. He was able to fill the void and then some. A former radio personality and reporter with a penchant for civil rights, Cornelius transitioned well into the roles of both groundbreaking producer and gracious host. He gave artists an opportunity for their music and voices to be heard, also to receive tangible recognition with the creation of the Soul Train Awards. Through Don’s interview style he offered on-the-spot artist development and grooming decades before competitive music programs like The Voice.
Like Cornelius, the ageless Dick Clark was the voice and face of multiple generations. He, too, came from radio to television, introducing Americans to a diverse lineup of music on his American Bandstand. He broke barriers with an integrated studio audience, also interacting with guests with post-performance interviews. As a producer, his Dick Clark Productions brought us the American Music Awards, a ceremony that closely rivals the Grammys. Arguably Clark’s most successful production is the annual Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve live from Times Square, a still unmatched cultural event.
Seacrest’s torch acceptance from Clark was as close to literal as possible without an actual physical torch handoff. Known famously as the host of FOX talent competition American Idol, Clark was the Georgia native’s mentor. In 2005, Seacrest became the executive producer and co-host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, becoming its primary host following Clark’s death in 2012. As a television producer, his production company RSP (Ryan Seacrest Productions) is responsible for E! network hits Keeping Up with the Kardashians, spin-offs Khloe and Lamar, Kourtney and Kim Take New York and Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, and the Emmy-winning ABC reality series Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.
Cannon’s own television revolution started with the Nickelodeon sketch comedy series All That. A native of San Diego, CA, his sun-shiny popularity on the show would lead to starring in and hosting its spin-off, The Nick Cannon Show. After he proved how knowledgeable he was of the teen market, Nickelodeon appointed Cannon chairman of their TEENnick channel. Through Cannon’s Ncredible Entertainment he launched successful MTV improv show Wild’N Out. And the delight of millions, he serves as host of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Cannon has stated in numerous interviews how Cornelius inspired him, and he’s expressed his desire to revive Soul Train for a modern television audience.
Nick Cannon will never fill Don Cornelius’ shoes, nor will Ryan Seacrest ever fill Dick Clark’s. To those who’ve grown up watching and admiring these men, they too are irreplaceable. It is possible, however, through their hosting and production ventures, for Nick and Ryan to honor Don and Dick through inspiration. They’ve followed their ideals, walked the path they tread, and found warmth beneath their shade. Thank those torches for that.
—Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker is an urban and pop culture enthusiast. Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, the biographer, author, entertainment and celebrity journalist, and columnist is currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of weekly classic hip-hop reviews for Concrete Magazine’s Concrete615.com. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He is also working on a book project with Liquid Arts & Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog MrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.