1979 – My grandma’s den - between the enormous white vinyl ottoman and black herringbone love-seat, I sat poised and alert awaiting that deep and mellow voice – “Sooooooooooooouuuuuuuullll Train” as an amazingly groovy day-glo train chugged and steamed onto the screen. I was stuck in small town Iowa, but I was about to take “The hippest trip in America.” As the steam cleared and the train left the station, Don Cornelius hit the scene surrounded by some of the widest bell-bottoms and highest afros ever witnessed by the free world. And then the groove began. I watched Bandstand at home with my mom on many Saturday afternoons but there was something about Soul Train, in my humble, elementary school opinion, which was far more enticing. A 2-foot afro was so much cooler than stringy hair hanging to one’s butt and then there was the dancing. Bandstand was fine with a little bump and sway, but Soul Train was where I really learned to groove. Shalamar, Gloria Gaynor, Teena Marie – this was where I cut my teeth. Atop the red shag carpet in my Granimals, watching my new idols shaking their groove thangs in time with a funky beat, I learned all I would need to be a smashing success at many gay bars in years to come.
The news of Don Cornelius’ death today really sent me spinning and realizing just what an important role in my development Soul Train played. Soul Train was my thing, something I could only watch on the down-low at my grandma’s house as she was the only one with cable. Soul Train showed me that there was great music out there and that is was not only acceptable, but mandatory to shake that booty. Soul Train confirmed all of my childhood suspicions that I had been returned to the wrong geographical location following an alien abduction. On the outside I was a chubby little pigtailed white kid in Iowa, but inside I was had an afro to the ceiling and the most gorgeous orange velvet pantsuit and sassy red platforms you ever laid eyes on. In my adult years, I’ve continued on the path Soul Train carved out for me. Spending 14 years in Philadelphia, the city of soul where even the Shop Rite pipes in R&B, Funk and Soul for your grocery shopping pleasure, my groove just continued to percolate. I’ve never owned a car without classic Marvin in the CD player. I’ve never taught a class that didn’t utilize a little P-Funk and I’ve never passed an opportunity to sashay down a soul train.
Don, you are credited for crossing so many boundaries on so many levels and I thank you. Just let the record state that I intend to ride the Soul Train for the rest of my life and maybe, just maybe, I will find my orange velvet pantsuit yet.
“We wish you love, peace and soul.”