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    Friday, February 3, 2012


    "Soul Train" host Don Cornelius was the arbiter of cool, a brilliant TV showman who used his purring, baritone voice to seduce mainstream America into embracing black music and artists.
    But the "love, peace, and SOUL!" he wished viewers as he closed each show for decades escaped him as his life descended into marital trouble, illness and, finally, a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound on Wednesday.
    Police said they went to his Mulholland Drive home around 4 a.m. after receiving a call from one of his sons, who became concerned after being contacted by his father. Cornelius, 75, was found shot and was pronounced dead an hour later at a nearby hospital.
    Authorities ruled out foul play, but have not found a suicide note and are talking to relatives about his mental state.
    To music-hungry viewers, he was a smooth, sharp-dressed man who got them dancing to the hottest tracks going. The pop world's biggest stars recalled him as much more: A cultural groundbreaker who advanced African-American music and culture; a black entrepreneur who overcame racism by strength of will; a visionary who understood rap's emergence but criticized its rawness.
    Aretha Franklin, an early "Soul Train" performer, called him "an American treasure."
    "God bless him for the solid, good and wholesome foundation he provided for young adults worldwide," she said, "and the unity and brotherhood he singlehandedly brought about with his most memorable creation of 'Soul Train.'"
    Donald Cortez Cornelius was born Sept. 27, 1936, in Chicago. After high school, he served as a Marine in Korea. Cornelius was working as an insurance salesman when he spent $400 on a broadcasting course and landed a part-time job in 1966 as announcer, newsman and DJ on WVON radio. That's where listeners first heard the distinctively measured and rich Cornelius rumble.
    Cornelius began moonlighting at WCIU-TV when Roy Wood, his mentor at WVON, moved there, and won a job producing and hosting "A Black's View of the News." When the station wanted to expand its "ethnic" programming, he pitched a black music show, and "Soul Train" was born.
    "You want to do what you're capable of doing. If I saw (Dick Clark's) 'American Bandstand' and I saw dancing and I knew black kids can dance better; and I saw white artists and I knew black artists make better music; and if I saw a white host and I knew a black host could project a hipper line of speech, and I did know all these things," then it was reasonable to try, he said.
    "Soul Train," which began in 1970, followed some of the "Bandstand" format with its audience and young dancers. But that's where the comparisons stopped. Cornelius, the suave, ultra-cool emcee, made "Soul Train" appointment viewing.
    "There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity," he said in 2006, then added: "I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them."
    Debra Lee, who is chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, was one of those youngsters who tuned in to the show. She said she would finish her chores early so she could check out the latest music, fashions and dance moves.
    "His reach is just amazing, and personally he was such a charming man," she said, calling Cornelius a role model and "a great interviewer who knew how to connect to artists" and had "the best voice in the world."
    With that voice, he helped bring the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV. It was one of the first TV shows to showcase African-American artists including Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White.
    "You have to dream," Cornelius said in a 1995 interview. "I dreamed everything. I used to introduce Marvin Gaye in my living room. So when the time came that I was going to really introduce guys like Marvin Gaye and Steve Wonder, I had done it before."
    "Soul Train" had a whimsical cartoon train and whistle that opened each show. And Cornelius would close each show with his sign-off: "Love, peace, and SOUL!" drawing out the pronunciation of the last word with his deep voice.
    The show, with his sharp eye for talent, became the cornerstone of his entertainment empire. He acted as independent producer-host-salesman to bring "Soul Train" into partnership with Tribune Entertainment Co., which became the show's distributor in the 1980s.
    The show chugged gradually onto TV screens nationwide: Only a handful of stations initially were receptive. Johnson Products Co., maker of Afro Sheen and other hair-care goods, was its major sponsor and the first black-owned company to sponsor a national weekly TV show. Years later, major advertisers including Coca-Cola and McDonald's joined.
    "Soul Train" aired nationally from 1971 to 2006. Asked why it endured, he told The New York Times in 1995: "There is an inner craving among us all, within us all, for television that we can personally connect to." He stepped down as host in 1993, and sold it to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.
    "Don Cornelius was a pioneer & a trailblazer," Earvin "Magic" Johnson wrote on Twitter. "He was the first African-American to create, produce, host & more importantly OWN his own show."
    Though "Soul Train" became one of the longest-running syndicated shows in TV history, its power began to wane in the 1980s and '90s as American pop culture began folding in black culture instead of keeping it segregated.
    By that time, there were more options for black artists to appear on mainstream shows. And on shows like "American Bandstand," blacks could be seen dancing along with whites.
    But even when Michael Jackson became the King of Pop, there was still a need to highlight the achievements of African-Americans that were still marginalized at mainstream events. So Cornelius created the "Soul Train Awards," which would become a key honor for musicians. The series also spawned the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest.
    Along the way, however, Cornelius became estranged from a changing music scene that clashed with his relatively conservative taste. But while he suggested violently or sexually explicit gangsta rap should be labeled "X-rated," Cornelius said the focus should be on eliminating poverty and violence from low-income black communities.
    DJ Scratch, the DJ from the rap act EPMD, tweeted on Wednesday that Cornelius "100% didn't like Hip Hop. But he realized that it was what the youth wanted. So again, I thank you Don."
    Cornelius' world grew dark in recent years as he faced fallout from a divorce and other pressures. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery and, in his divorce case that year, he also mentioned having significant health problems.
    He has two children, Anthony and Raymond, with his first wife, Delores Harrison.
    Cornelius, who was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said in 2006 he remained grateful to the musicians who made "Soul Train" the destination for the best and latest in black music.
    "As long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for 'Soul Train,'" he said.

    The Legacy Of Don Cornelius: STORY HIGHLIGHTS
    ·           Many express their grief on Twitter
    ·           Holly Robinson Peete says Cornelius was a friend, and she will miss him
    ·           Chaka Khan says Cornelius was like family
    (CNN) -- As news spread that "Soul Train" legend Don Cornelius died Wednesday morning of a gunshot wound at the age of 75, fans and friends took to Twitter to express their grief in a stream of condolences that continued Thursday.
    His son, Tony Cornelius, issued a statement Thursday afternoon expressing sadness at the loss of his father.
    "At this time, we respectfully ask that you allow our family and friends the privacy necessary to get through this difficult time," he wrote. "We thank all the well-wishers and the fans who have supported the Soul Train legacy. Love, Peace and Soul."
    "Soul Train" host Cornelius would sign off the show with the words "Wishing you love, peace and soul," and many, including musician Rob Thomas and actor/rapper Ice Cube, honored Cornelius' memory by tweeting his trademark phrase.
    Others, like actress and TV personality Holly Robinson Peete, chimed in with memories of Cornelius as a friend.
    "Don was a friend, supporter, neighbor a pioneer. We will miss you. ... Rest With Angels Don. Prayers for son Tony and entire family," she tweeted Wednesday.

    Both rapper Talib Kweli and ABC News' Robin Roberts shared memories of watching Cornelius host the long-running television show "Soul Train," with Kweli sharing Wednesday, " 'Soul Train' was a huge part of my Saturday mornings growing up."
    Legendary soul singer Chaka Khan also said, "I've known him practically all of my life, back when he was a DJ at WVON radio in Chicago. He was a great man. He opened the borders for black music. He was like family to me. Don will be missed."
    Singer Aretha Franklin called his death "so sad, stunning and downright shocking."
    "Don Cornelius single-handedly brought about a melding and unity of brother and sisterhood among young adults worldwide and globally with the unforgettable creation of 'Soul Train,' " Franklin said.
    The Rev. Al Sharpton also took to Twitter to express his sadness over Cornelius' passing, sharing that he is "shocked and grief stricken by the reported suicide of Don Cornelius of Soul Train. I have known him since I was 19 years old." He added in a statement that he and Cornelius "maintained a friendship for the last 38 years."
    The venerated producer "brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown, and he was a cultural game changer on a global level," Sharpton continued. "Had it not been for Don Cornelius, we would not have ever transcended from the Chitlin circuit to become mainstream cultural trendsetters."
    Music industry heavyweight Quincy Jones echoed that sentiment.
    "I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius," Jones says in a statement. "Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was 'Soul Train,' that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones."
    Singer and actor Tyrese Gibson posted on his Twitter page, "First day of black history month... We lost (a) legend today .. RIP Don Cornelius I will never forget our laughs and moments..! Bless you.!!"
    Televison personality Tavis Smiley said, "Don Cornelius was our cultural ambassador at a time when Black music, Black dance and Black fashion were underappreciated.

    Following the death on Wednesday of one of America's most iconic show hosts and producer of the groundbreaking Soul Train, Don Cornelius, it has been an outpouring of grief and eulogies by top American celebrities from movies to music. Cornelius, who was 75, was found dead by the police after a self-inflicted gunshot to the head in his Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles home. A long time professional and business collaborator and producer of some of late Michael Jackson's early hits, Quincy Jones, says, “I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague and business partner, Don Cornelius. Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV, there was 'Soul Train.' That will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones.”
    Former presidential aspirant, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is quoted as saying he was on the phone with the deceased days before his death and he did not betray any angst. Jackson concludes, “He was a transformer. Soul Train became the outlet for African Americans. Soul Train was the first and only television show to showcase and put a spotlight on black artistes at a time when there were few African-Americans on television at all, and that was the great vision of Don.” 80s rapper, MC Hammer, tweets, “It meant more to me to perform on Soul Train than to win a Grammy. Loved U So Much Don. Thank U. RIP Don Cornelius. Bluesy singer, Ginuwine also tweets, “RIP Don Cornelius… Someone who paved the way for black music. I still remember my first time on soul train what an experience.” So did R n B singer, Mya; “So grateful for his decades of innovative contribution to black music. R.I.P.” A lot of other entertainers paid homage to the man who led black American culture by the hands to mainstream acceptance.
    With the creation of “Soul Train” in 1970, regarded as the longest running nationally syndicated programme in television history, Cornelius helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting edge style. The show is credited with giving voice and visibility to legendary artistes as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV. Singer, Jody Watley and dance partner, Jeffrey Daniels, who would become part of the hit-making trio, Shalamar, got their start on the show. Cornelius stepped down as Soul Train host in 1993. In his later years, he had a troubled marriage up to th point of being sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanour spousal battery in 2009. In his divorce case that year, he also mentioned having significant health issues.
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