The death at his own hands of Soul Train founder and long-time presenter Don Cornelius today, February 1, has saddened me like few celebrity deaths ever have. Don Cornelius presided over my favourite sub-genre of popular music, the soul music of the early and mid-1970s. Soul Train – the show was his brainchild – brought all that great music by groups like The Delfonics and The Chi-Lites and The O’Jays and singers like Billy Preston and Billy Paul and Bill Withers to a wider audience. Thanks in great part to Soul Train, these acts crossed over into the pop charts, and across the Atlantic to Britain and to Europe.
Don Cornelius fostered a black consciousness that preached peace and came dressed in gaudy suits, but was utterly radical: Soul Train was a truly black thing on TV; that never existed before. The afro, promoted by the Sheen hair product range that sponsored Soul Train and worn by many of the trend-setting dancers, was as potent as a raised fist. Don Cornelius made a huge social impact. He was a giant.
It is fortuitous that this week’s theme riffs on means of transport. Most other themes would have proscribed the opportunity to pay tribute to one of my heroes.
So here is the famous Soul Train theme, the Gamble & Huff tune better known as “T.S.O.P.”, which was first used on the show in November 1973. It had been commissioned by Cornelius, and became a worldwide hit after debuting on Soul Train. Cornelius was precious about protecting the Soul Train trademark, and refused to let Gamble and Huff use it in the title, hence “T.S.O.P.”. Cornelius soon realised the folly of his decision.
But what have here is not the single version of “T.S.O.P.”, but the theme as it used in the intro to the show in 1973 (see here for more Soul Train themes and the fuller story of them).
Last year I put up a gallery of screenshots I had taken from the splendid TimeLife DVD collection of Soul Train. The picture that illustrates this post comes from it. The whole set is HERE.
“And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and SOUL!"