Inner Michael » The Soul of Community- Soul Train and Glee

The Soul of Community- Soul Train and Glee

Before we continue with the series and discussion about “Expansion” and what that means, we stop to acknowledge a couple of things– the episode of Glee that featured Michael Jackson’s music and the passing of another icon of the twentieth century– Don Cornelius. Cornelius was the soul of Soul Train.

First Glee: It’s important that each generation have a “community” it can identify with. We had “Fame” a television series that featured dreams and “school of the arts” fame hopefuls. “Glee” reminds me of “Fame” in many ways but of course there will always be a prejudice toward anything that marks a milestone in one’s life. “Cheers” is another of those iconic communities where you can go and “everybody knows your name.” You may remember a little sitcom titled “Friends” that became quite a sensation. These shows were all about belonging and community. Glee is about dreams and achievement and incorporating a little magic into life. While it doesn’t do it perfectly and doesn’t have a clear black superhero, it does address some cultural issues albeit gingerly.

 Maslow’s hierarchy demonstrates how important it is for humans to belong somewhere and how much that contributes to a sense of security in the lives of people. We are moving into a new era where “community” will be a priority. The Earth itself is a community and this is just beginning to be recognized on a very deep level. Michael was saying that decades ago. He also spoke about belonging and who would know better than him? He didn’t belong to any of the stereotypical little boxes we put people in. He broke most of the molds. Cornelius did too.

Reviewers were critical of Glee because it was too “white” and the show didn’t take enough risks with the music. Some reviewers are still spewing the same tired old false meme about Michael Jackson and his “whiteness” and dismiss his music as irrelevant. There is little recognition for how significant his contribution to the cluture, how his music united and motivated people and how as a freedom fighter he contributed to integration.

My favorite moment in the episode besides seeing what the cast did with the music and dance was when Artie burst into his diatribe: “Don’t give me any of that ‘It gets better’ crap because I’m not interested in it getting any better. I want it to be better!” I applauded audibly and yelled “Brava!” Words hurt. Period. Amen. And some behavior is unacceptable and the people who demonstrate that behavior should be called out immediately. Asking people to be patient at waiting until it gets better is a bit of a cop out. I’m with Artie– I don’t want to wait until it gets better; I want to MAKE IT BETTER. There is just no excuse for bullying. None. Amen again.

Here are some reviews that made my hair stand at attention: (If you go there to comment, please do not be nasty. With a little air of superiority INFORM these people of how ignorance is unattractive.) NO NAME CALLING. We are learning diplomacy, right? Very professionally “wonder” how any legitimate journalist could be so in the dark about someone as culturally relevant as Jackson was. Suggest that perhaps they might wish to pay attention to the information revealed since his passing– including the Vitiligo he was trying to tell everyone about decades ago. It was confirmed on autopsy. You might politely remind people of the “not guilty” verdict and that the SAME prosecutor, attorneys, etc. were involved in both accusations and on and on… And as for “whiteness” or “blackness”– just bringing the subject of skin color into a conversation is racism. You might point out that Jackson united races and people of all countries and ethnicities.

Most journalists are sensitive to truth. Truth is based on research and staying current with information. If you criticism THAT a journalist will be embarrassed and perhaps make more of an effort toward truth-telling next time. You might include the Man In the Myth link from Walking Moon Studios with a comment like behold: the truth:

Don Cornelius was the soul of Soul Train. A poor black kid from the south side of Chicago grew up to break racial barriers and give black youth their own “community” and identity. Spike Lee calls it the definitive “urban music time capsule.” White kids hand “American Bandstand” and black kids had “Soul Train.” The really hip kids who loved to dance and wanted to learn all the latest moves (like Jagger!) watched Soul Train. Who wanted to dance like white kids anyway?

A previous post on Inner Michael featured Soul Train:

Don Cornelius’ death was an apparent suicide. He had previously revealed health problems. He had brain surgery for congenital malformations and commented that his life was never the same after the surgery. Unconfirmed and preliminary reports indicate that Cornelius may have been suffering from early Alzheimers. Alzheimers is not a dignified ending to an illustrious (and sometimes colorful) life, so he may have taken matters into his own hands for reasons that were his own. There was no note left behind. No matter his reasons, he deserves to be respected and honored for his contributions to art and culture.

All too often black artists are not recognized and when something happens to them, any difficulties encountered previously in their lives are likely to be rehashed. Major legitimate magazines have even darkened the skin of a person they featured on the cover and who was charged with killing his wife. The photo of O.J. Simpson on Time Magazine’s cover was darkened and he was presumed guilty before he ever set foot in court.

Racist media pundits will likely bring up his arrest for domestic violence and troubled marriage. You know of whom I speak. So, watch closely; you may have to remind some people that the life of an icon (especially a black icon) is not one dimensional. Cornelius was a genius. And what he did as a freedom fighter who fought in his own non-violent way, should not be overlooked. He gave black youth legitimacy and identity at a time when racism and segregation were still very prominent in the culture. He gave them self esteem and a place to belong– a “community” that showcased their music when the white culture was largely ignoring it.

Don Cornelius was the soul of Soul Train and Soul music was the soul of Motown and Motown was the soul of black music. Cornelius recognized that nobody was showcasing music by and for African Americans so he filled a much-needed niche and in the process, made Motown and new dance styles popular with white youth. Soul Train did a lot to blend the races and to elevate the self esteem of a portion of the youth population looking for identity. And Soul Train was a joy to watch.

Cornelius had a signature deep voice made for radio and TV. His golden throat ended every Soul Train episode with “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” The show ended in 2006.Many artists got their start and their skyrocketing careers thanks to Don Cornelius.  


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Cornelius’ friends and colleagues have issued statements about his passing. Aretha Franklin debuted on Soul Train and became a household name largely because of her appearance on the show. She said this: his death is “sad, stunning, and downright shocking … a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large.” She added he was a role model for the young African-American community and he was important to her and to other emerging African-American artists because to be featured on Soul Train was to catapult their careers. An appearance on ‘Soul Train’ meant, what it could mean, a person being virtually an unknown person to an American sensation overnight, very similar to ‘American Idol,’” Franklin said. “It was like if you had a record that sold maybe 10,000 copies, to be on ‘Soul Train’ meant it might sell 100 to 200- to 300- or even 500,000 or more. What I remember about Don and what stood out most to me was that he was a gentleman first, last and always,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor, beautiful sense of humor.

Smokey Robinson said of Cornelius “he brought exposure to black talent and a positive image to young black teenagers that had never been done before.” Quincy Jones called his “friend, colleague, and business partner” 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.”

Michael Jackson and the J5 owe a great debt to Cornelius and Soul Train as well. They were a staple of the black community and Soul Train supporters and well as one of its star attractions. In fact, all black artists owe a debt of gratitude to Cornelius for the business savvy and the genius of giving black music and its artists a showcase for their talent. All too often the greats who made significant contributions to the world of music, art and entertainment go too silently and without acknowledgement. Cornelius deserves a standing ovation. I’m standing. Rest well, Don; thank you for making the world a better place.


  1. gertrude said . . .

    I was very sad at the passing of Don Cornelius. He was another uniter in the midst of division. Who wanted to dance like white kids? Certainly not white kids. We couldn’t wait for every episode of Soul Train. We didn’t even watch American Bandstand after the advent of Soul Train. Peace and love to your brilliant soul, DC.

    Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink
  2. Barbara Straughn said . . .

    A wonderful article – a true source of inspiration and guidance as always. Thank you so much for sharing this. I will take on board your wonderful responses to the negative elements of our society and use them when necessary to protest and combat the hatred that has become a part of our daily lives when dealing with ignorant and bigoted folk.

    I must say though, that they are a minority and I am constantly surprised at the beautiful people I come across, from military personell, manual workers, white collar suited and booted workers, young and old and of all colours and nationalities who have a love in their hearts for Michael and a kindness for all. I am truly blessed because I could not see this before Michael opened my eyes and my heart. Thank you for all that you do for Michael and for the children of the future Barbara L.O.V.E x

    Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  3. Kim said . . .

    I was very saddened and shocked to hear about the passing of Don Cornelius. I do remember watching Soul Train every weekend when I was young. I also remember American Bandstand, but it wasn’t as cool as Soul Train (please forgive me Mr. Clark) Who can’t forget the “Soul Train” lines at every wedding reception or party? 🙂 I remember how fun it was to stroll down the line and try to emulate the Soul Train dancers or do your own dance. I didn’t realize the true impact of what I was seeing at the time; however, now as I am older and understand more of where we came from, I see it more clearly.

    Cornelius was a visionary just like Michael and many other people of that time. That time period truly was a time where many events occured that changed the way we think today. Although there are still some residuals from the old ways of thinking that still exist, but hopefully with the new age upon us, they will be gone too and we will indeed begin to heal the world and make the world a better place. I am already there. RIP Don Cornelius.

    Posted February 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

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