|Created by||Don Cornelius|
|Presented by||Don Cornelius
Various guest hosts
|Narrated by||Sid McCoy|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||1,117 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||45-48 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Don Cornelius Productions|
|Original release||October 2, 1971– March 25, 2006|
Soul Train is an American musical variety television program which aired in syndication from 1971 until 2006. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul and hip hop artists, although funk, jazz, disco and gospel artists also appeared. The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer.
Production was suspended following the 2005–2006 season, with a rerun package (known as The Best of Soul Train) airing for two years subsequently. As a nod to Soul Train's longevity, the show's opening sequence during later seasons contained a claim that it was the "longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated program in American television history," with over 1,100 episodes produced from the show's debut through the 2005–2006 season. Despite the production hiatus, Soul Train held that superlative until 2016, when Entertainment Tonight surpassed it completing its 35th season. Among non-news programs, Wheel of Fortune will surpass it in 2018 (that show has already been renewed through that year).
The origins of Soul Train can be traced to 1965 when WCIU-TV, an upstart UHF station in Chicago, began airing two youth-oriented dance programs: Kiddie-a-Go-Go and Red Hot and Blues. These programs—specifically the latter, which featured a predominantly African-American group of in-studio dancers—would set the stage for what was to come to the station several years later. Don Cornelius, a news reader and backup disc jockey at Chicago radio station WVON, was hired by WCIU in 1967 as a news and sports reporter. Cornelius also was promoting and emceeing a touring series of concerts featuring local talent (sometimes called "record hops") at Chicago-area high schools, calling his traveling caravan of shows "The Soul Train". WCIU-TV took notice of Cornelius's outside work and in 1970, allowed him the opportunity to bring his road show to television.
After securing a sponsorship deal with the Chicago-based retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co., Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV on August 17, 1970, as a live show airing weekday afternoons. The first episode of the program featured Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites, and the Emotions as guests. Cornelius was assisted by Clinton Ghent, a local professional dancer who appeared on early episodes before moving behind the scenes as a producer and secondary host.
The program's immediate success attracted the attention of another locally based firm—the Johnson Products Company (manufacturers of the Afro Sheen line of hair-care products)—and they later agreed to co-sponsor the program's expansion into national syndication. Cornelius and Soul Train's syndicator targeted 24 markets outside of Chicago to carry the show, but stations in only eight other cities—Atlanta, Birmingham, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco—purchased the program, which began airing on a weekly basis on October 2, 1971. By the end of the first season, Soul Train was on in the other sixteen markets. When the program moved into syndication, its home base was also shifted to Los Angeles, where it remained for the duration of its run. Soul Train was part of a national trend toward syndicated music-oriented programs targeted at niche audiences; two other network series (Hee Haw for country music, and The Lawrence Welk Show for traditional music) also entered syndication in 1971 and would go on to have long runs.
Though Don Cornelius moved his operations west, Soul Train continued in Chicago as a local program. Cornelius hosted the local Chicago and Los Angeles–based national programs simultaneously, but soon focused his attention solely on the national edition. He continued to oversee production in Chicago, where Clinton Ghent hosted episodes on WCIU-TV until 1976, followed by three years of once-weekly reruns. The syndicated version was picked up in Chicago by CBS-owned WBBM-TV at its launch; the program moved to WGN-TV in 1977 and remained there for the rest of its run.
In 1985, Chicago-based Tribune Entertainment (WGN's syndication wing) took over Soul Train's syndication contract; the series would continue distribution through Tribune for the rest of its original run.
Most of the stations that aired Soul Train during the final 13 years were either Fox affiliates or independent stations that would later become WB network affiliates (like WGN-TV from 1995–2006 in the Chicago area and from 1995–1999 on the national superstation version), UPN affiliates or both dual WB/UPN affiliates.
Don Cornelius ended his run as host at the end of the show's 22nd season in 1993, though he remained the show's main creative force from behind the scenes. The following fall, Soul Train began using various guest hosts weekly until comedian Mystro Clark began a two-year stint as permanent host in 1997. Clark was replaced by actor Shemar Moore in 2000. In 2003, Moore was succeeded by actor Dorian Gregory, who hosted through 2006.
Soul Train pulled into its last stop when production of first-run episodes was suspended at the conclusion of the 2005–06 season, the show's 35th. Instead, for two seasons starting in 2006–07, the program aired archived episodes (all from between 1974 and 1987) under the title The Best of Soul Train. This was because in later years, Nielsen ratings dropped to below 1.0; in the process, some of the stations which had been airing Soul Train on Saturday afternoons started rescheduling the program to overnight time slots. The future of Soul Train was uncertain with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment in December 2007, which left Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program. Cornelius soon secured a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media.
When Don Cornelius Productions still owned the program, clips of the show's performances and interviews were kept away from online video sites such as YouTube owing to copyright infringement claims. Cornelius also frowned upon unauthorized distribution of Soul Train episodes through the sale of third-party VHS or DVD compilations.
In May 2008, Cornelius sold the rights to the Soul Train library to MadVision Entertainment, whose principal partners came from the entertainment and publishing fields. The price and terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, by the start of the 2008–09 television season, the Tribune Broadcasting-owned stations (including national carrier WGN America) that had been the linchpin of the show's syndication efforts dropped the program, and many others followed suit. Soul Train's website acknowledged that the program had ceased distribution on September 22, 2008.
Following the purchase by MadVision, the Soul Train archives were exposed to new forms of distribution. In April 2009, MadVision launched a Soul Train channel on YouTube. Three months later, the company entered into a licensing agreement with Time–Life to distribute Soul Train DVD sets. MadVision then came to terms with Viacom-owned Black Entertainment Television to relaunch the Soul Train Music Awards for BET's new spin-off channel, Centric, in November 2009, a move that may be one step into reviving the program. Centric, which launched on September 28, 2009, is currently broadcasting archived episodes of the program. Archived episodes of the series can also be seen on Bounce TV, an Atlanta-based television network that launched on September 26, 2011.
MadVision sold the rights to Soul Train to a consortium led by basketball player Earvin "Magic" Johnson in 2011. Johnson's group plans on a potential film project Cornelius had briefly mentioned prior to selling the franchise, as well as producing potential stage adaptations and a cruise. As part of the sale, Johnson's Aspire TV channel also began airing reruns of the series.
Cornelius continued to appear for Soul Train documentaries and ceremonies up until his death from suicide in February 2012. In 2013, a cruise-based revival, called the Soul Train Cruise, began taking place; the cruise is presented by Centric.
Some commentators have called Soul Train a "black American Bandstand," another long-running program with which Soul Train shares some similarities. Cornelius, however, tended to bristle at the Bandstand comparison.
In 1973, Dick Clark, host and producer of Bandstand, launched Soul Unlimited, controversial for its pronounced racial overtures, to compete directly with Soul Train. Cornelius, with help from Jesse Jackson, openly accused Clark of trying to undermine TV's only Black-owned show. Agreeing, ABC canceled it after a few episodes. Clark later agreed to work with Cornelius on a series of network specials featuring R&B and soul artists.
Cornelius was relatively conservative in his musical tastes and was admittedly not a fan of the emerging hip hop genre, believing that the genre did not reflect positively on African-American culture (one of his stated goals for the series). Even though Cornelius would feature rap artists on Soul Train frequently during the 1980s, he publicly would admit (to the artists' faces such as Kurtis Blow) that the genre was one that he did not understand; as rap continued to move further toward hardcore hip hop, Cornelius would admit to be frightened by the antics of groups such as Public Enemy. Rosie Perez testified in the 2010 VH1 documentary Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America that Cornelius also disliked seeing the show's dancers perform sexually suggestive "East Coast" dance moves. Cornelius admittedly had rap artists on the show only because the genre was becoming popular among his African-American audience, though the decision alienated middle-aged, more affluent African Americans like himself. This disconnect eventually led to Cornelius's stepping down as host in the early 1990s and the show's losing its influence.
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer for hip-hop band The Roots and a fan of the program, authored Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation. ISBN 978-0-0622-8838-7., which was published in 2013.
Within the structure of the program, there were two enduring elements. The first was the "Soul Train Scramble Board", where two dancers are given 60 seconds to unscramble a set of letters that form the name of that show's performer or a notable person in African American history. In describing the person's renown, the host concluded their description with the phrase "...whose name you should know". Cornelius openly admitted after the series ended its run that the game was usually set up so everybody won in an effort not to cause embarrassment for the show or African Americans in general.
There was also the popular "Soul Train Line", in which all the dancers form two lines with a space in the middle for dancers to strut down and dance in consecutive order. Originally, this consisted of a couple—with men on one side and women on the other. In later years, men and women had their own individual lineups. Sometimes, new dance styles or moves were featured or introduced by particular dancers. In addition, there was an in-studio group of dancers who danced along to the music as it was being performed. Rosie Perez, Damita Jo Freeman, Darnell Williams, Derek DFox Fleming, Alise Mekhail, Carmen Electra, Nick Cannon, MC Hammer, Jermaine Stewart, Heather Hunter, Fred "Rerun" Berry, Laurieann Gibson, Pebbles, and NFL legend Walter Payton were among those who got noticed dancing on the program over the years. Two former dancers, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel, enjoyed years of success as members of the R&B group Shalamar after they were chosen by Soul Train talent booker/record promoter Dick Griffey and Cornelius to replace the group's original session singers in 1978.
Each guest usually performed twice on each program; after their first number, they were joined by the program host onstage for a brief interview. The show was also known for two popular catchphrases, referring to itself as the "hippest trip in America" at the beginning of the show and closing the program with "...and you can bet your last money, it's gonna be a stone gas, honey. I'm Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace...and SOUL!"
In 1987, Soul Train launched the Soul Train Music Awards, which honors the top performances in R&B, hip hop, and gospel music (and, in its earlier years, jazz music) from the previous year.
Soul Train later created two additional annual specials: The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, first airing in 1995, celebrated top achievements by female performers; and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest, which premiered in 1998, featured holiday music performed by a variety of R&B and gospel artists. Award categories for the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards presented to female recipients included:
- R&B/Soul Album of the Year, Solo
- Best R&B/Soul Album of the Year, Group or Duo
- R&B/Soul Song of the Year
- Best R&B/Soul Single, Solo
- Best R&B/Soul Single, Group or Duo
- Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist
- Best Jazz Album
- Best Gospel Album
- Best R&B/Soul or Rap Music Video
Specials awards given were The Aretha Franklin Award for Entertainer of the Year, and The Lena Horne Award for Outstanding Career Achievements.
The Lady of Soul Awards and Christmas Starfest programs last aired in 2005. In April 2008, Don Cornelius announced that year's Soul Train Music Awards ceremony had been canceled. Cornelius cited the three-month strike by the Writers Guild of America as one of the reasons, though a main factor may have been the uncertainty surrounding Soul Train's future. Cornelius also announced that a motion picture based on the program was in development. However, subsequent owners of the franchise have followed their own agenda for the program, which included a revival of the Soul Train Music Awards as of 2009.
Soul Train used various original and current music for theme songs during its run, including
- 1971–1973: "Soul Train (Hot Potato)", by King Curtis (Curtis Ousley) and later redone by The Rimshots as "Soul Train, Parts 1 & 2". [The original 1962 version, which was used on the show, was recorded nine years before the show was named "Hot Potatoes (Piping Hot)"]
- 1973–1975: "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", composed by Gamble and Huff and recorded by MFSB with vocals by The Three Degrees. Released as a single, this song became a pop and R&B radio hit in 1974 and the show's best-known theme.
- 1975–1976: "Soul Train '75", by The Soul Train Gang, which was later released as a single for the newly formed Soul Train Records
- 1976–1978: "Soul Train '76 (Get On Board)", by The Soul Train Gang
- 1978–1980: "Soul Train Theme '79", produced by the Hollywood Disco Jazz Band with vocals by the Waters
- 1980–1983: "Up On Soul Train", first by the Waters and later by The Whispers, whose version appears in their 1980 album Imagination.
- 1983–1987: "Soul Train's a Comin'", by R&B artist O'Bryan
- 1987–1989: "TSOP '87", a remake of the original "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)," composed and produced by George Duke
- 1989–1993: "TSOP '89", a remixed version of "TSOP '87", by George Duke
- 1993–1999: "Soul Train '93" (Know You Like to Dance)", by Naughty by Nature with a saxophone solo by Everette Harp
- 2000–2006: "TSOP 2000", with rap vocals by Samson and music by Dr. Freeze, and again featuring an Everette Harp saxophone solo. However, a portion of "Know You Like to Dance" was still used in the show's second-half opening segment during this period.
- List of Soul Train episodes
- Guests on Soul Train
- SOLAR Records
- Soul Train Music Awards
- Showtime at the Apollo
- The Midnight Special
- Don Kirshner's Rock Concert
- Electric Circus
- The Party Machine with Nia Peeples
- Vaughn, Shamontiel L. (January 26, 2009). "Soul Train reunion to honor show host, Ghent". chicagodefender.com. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
- "Soul Train - Who Do I Need to Write to Get This Show Cancelled?" 15 Seconds of Fame.
- Austen, Jake (October 2, 2008). "Soul Train Local: The show that put black music on TVs across America got its start in Chicago—and even after it moved to LA, Chicago kept its own version running daily for nearly a decade". chicagoreader.com. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
- Soul Train - Don Cornelius Productions, Inc.
- Pursell, Chris (December 18, 2007). "Tribune Entertainment Ends Distribution Operation". tvweek.com. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
- Stelter, Brian (June 17, 2008). "After 38 Years, 'Soul Train' Gets New Owner". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
- Mitchell, Gail (July 9, 2009). "'Soul Train' vaults opened for DVD deal". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 12, 2009.
- "Soul Train - Heads Up: The Hippest Trip In America Comes to DVD Soon!" TV Shows on DVD.
- "What's next for the Soul Train brand?". The Associated Press. February 21, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "Soul Train Cruise To Set Sail In 2013". The Huffington Post. February 17, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
- In episode 338 of the series, which aired in October 1980, guest performer Rick James begins cavorting with audience members only to have Cornelius stop him and tell him "This ain't Bandstand!"
- Austen, Jake (2005). TV-a-go-go: rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Inc. p. 100. ISBN 1569762414. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
- See the 2010 documentary Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America.
- Martins, Chris. "Here's ?uestlove's 'Soul Train' Book, With a Preface by Nick Cannon". Spin. Spin. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
- Black, Stu (December 13, 1987). "She took the Soul Train to stardom: Once a voice in the background, Jody Watley has burst onto the pop charts in her own right". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
- "Lauryn Hill, TLC Top Lady Of Soul Awards". mtv.com. 1999-09-05.
- Goodman, Dean (April 18, 2008). ""Soul Train" movie rolling into theaters". Reuters. Retrieved April 20, 2008.
- O'Bryan Soul Train's A Comin' (Remix) - 1983 - Song - MP3 Stream on IMEEM Music.
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