Don Cornelius was found dead at his home in California earlier today. He was 75.
Credited with helping to break down racial barriers and encouraging the acceptance of black culture, Cornelius created the cutting edge music variety television show ‘Soul Train’, which he went on to host for the better part of 22-years.
Police discovered Cornelius after entering his home in response to neighbors hearing a gunshot near his Mullholland Drive home. He was rushed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but was pronounced dead upon arrival.
The LAPD are not treating the death as suspicious, and believe the bullet wound was self-inflicted.
The first episode of ‘Soul Train’ aired in 1971; it was one of the first television shows catering to African-Americans, featuring the latest in Jazz, Funk, R&B, and Disco music. When you consider that even more than a decade after the launch of this program, megastars like Michael Jackson were having trouble getting their music aired on white-operated programs, you can’t help but appreciate the gravity of the task Corenelius set out to accomplish.
Starting out as a local program in Chicago, the show was slow to find national success. “When we rolled it out [nationwide] there were only eight takers,” Cornelius told The AP of his disappointment at the slow start of the show. However, supported by the strong talent the show brought in and an overwhelmingly positive audience reaction, the show later grew into one of the most successful variety shows of the era.
The program ran for 35-years, and produced a total of 1,117 episodes featuring the likes of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, The Jackson 5, and countless others.
Jazz Legend Quincy Jones was among the first to publicly express grief at the loss of his long-time friend, saying: “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.”
Others to react to his death include iconic guitarist Slash, who tweeted: “Really sorry to hear the news about Don Cornelius. He was quite the maverick in his time. Soul Train had a tremendous impact. Sad.”
Drummer ?uestlove of The Roots also said: “Next to Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius was hands down the MOST crucial non-political figure to emerge from the civil rights era post 68. the craziest most radical thing of all is I don’t even consider Soul Train his most radical statement. Yes the idea of the young black teenager NOT mired in legal trouble on the 6 o’clock news getting camera time was a new idea to most.so of course the fact the U.S. really got its first vicarious look at our culture was amazing. But the TRUE stroke of genius in my opinion was how Don managed to show US how important we were. Which was NOT an easy task.”
Watch a legendary Soul Train Line dance below: