Love, Peace, Soul and Silence

Image by Paul Natkin

On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, we learned that Don Cornelius (allegedly) raised a gun and shot himself in the head.  There is no fun lead in or sexy way to state that fact.  At age 75, though blessed with a legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship as the creator of Soul Train, he made the choice to leave this world.  There will be those who speak about some troubled relationships, such as the breakdown of his second marriage and subsequent nasty divorce.  There will be people who speak to their beliefs that his soul will now be damned to the eternity of hell. 

I won’t speak to any of that.  What hits me is that the police were summoned to his house at 4:00 am.  That is a quiet time.  A haunting time.  A lot can go on with a man left alone with his dark thoughts in the early morning hours.  Reports state that during the divorce in 2009, Don said that he was suffering from some serious health issues and wanted to get the proceedings done before he died.  We don’t know the pain some others feel as they take in each day’s breath.

In the 1970s, if you loved music and dancing, watching Soul Train on Saturday was the place to be.  As a business man, Don was the first African-American produce, host and own his own show.  As the decades wore on, the show evolved in the changing musical atmosphere and hosted hip-hop artists that were sometimes rebuffed as guests in other TV venues.  And Don wasn’t even a hip-hop fan.

Nothing can take away the magic of what Soul Train was.  What it meant to the black community in terms of support for musicians and promoting a positive cultural image.  And Soul Train’s reach went beyond the racial divide, gaining fans of all races and having guests that included Elton John, David Bowie and Robert Palmer.

Don leaves behind two sons and a lifetime of appreciative fans.  I hope that in the darkness of the night, Don knew how much he mattered.

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16 Responses to Love, Peace, Soul and Silence

  1. Powerful post Barbara. I like how you ended it that you hope he knew he mattered because indeed, he did!

    • Thanks, Natalie. I heard the news yesterday morning and it just sat with me. The phrase, “it wasn’t supposed to end like this” kept going through my mind. As if I or anyone else could control his life situation or choices. Heartbreaking.

  2. amyshojai says:

    I gasped when I heard this–Soul Train was so much a part of the culture of the times when I was growing up. He mattered, indeed.

    • Yes he did, Amy. That’s the beauty of the show and part of its place in history. It crosses generations and cultures. Go to a party, have someone break out a Soul Train line and watch everyone respond with glee and join in. No drama entertainment we all enjoyed.

  3. When I heard of his death, I immediately thought of you, Barbara. I know Soul Train was your favorite growing up and I sent a cyber hug to you (even though you didn’t know I did). I didn’t know any details about his life, but it sounds tragic. Your post honored him with respect and a positive message.

    I remember Soul Train. We’d dance in the living room every time it was on. Yep, he certainly did matter.

    • *accepting the hug* The parts I know of his later years are sad. I remember seeing and hearing him after he’d recovered from a stroke and the damage it had done was clear. This ending feels so lonely against the backdrop of all those dancing bodies and smiling faces.

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  5. Julie Glover says:

    I’m about as fair-skinned as they come, and I happily recall watching Soul Train! It came on after American Bandstand, and the music and dancers were hipper and edgier. The R&B soul dripped through everything about it. I’m sad to hear about Don Cornelius’s death. Thanks for this tribute.

    • Yes, Julie, I would watch American Bandstand too, but learned all the newest moves from the Soul Train gang. Their outfits were so funky! And I loved how it was accessible for everyone. It was just about enjoying the music.

  6. In those wee hours of the night, I hope he knew his work made a difference. That is such a powerful idea. Yesterday, I sat and watched the 16 min short film “Validation” over at Angela Wallace’s blog. It speaks to just this type of idea – we matter, he mattered. I hope Don Corneiius knew that.

  7. J Holmes says:

    Hi Barbara. You picked a nice act for a tribute to Cornelius. Suicide is sad but it never surprises me. Our society is under tremendous stress and emotional displacement. I feel some times like we are a people living in emotional exile in our own land. The mental health “system” in the USA is barely a system at all. Psychiatry is still in its infancy.

    Had Cornelius showed up at an ER complaining of depression or severe pain would anything have happened to help him?

    • “Emotional exile” is exactly it, Holmes. Suicide is sad and lonely. Unless done as part of some type of medically assisted situation, it is a person alone in their own personal silo. And from how I’ve seen people I know be treated (handled) in the system, some have gone in vicious circles to find available treatment or were just handed a ton of meds without adequate follow-up. If he’d hit the ER, most likely he would have been medicated and discharged–I would not call that help.

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