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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2012


Soul man

At the height of his popularity in the early 1970s, Soul Train creator Don Cornelius was more influential among young people, especially black youths, than Congress, the President, or the press. Teenagers and young adults tuned in to the show on Saturday afternoons to learn dance moves for the party that night.

Mr. Cornelius, who died last week of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 75, was a model for young people who yearned to be hip. His iconic Afro, velvety voice, and super-cool demeanor rivaled those of the performers who clamored to be booked on his program.

Entertainers from the Jackson 5 to Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye appeared. Although most lip-synced over recorded tracks, they wanted exposure to young people in a pre-YouTube world.

Soul Train began as a black alternative to American Bandstand, but white kids also learned to dance from watching the show. Soon, white performers were getting on the program as well.

Mr. Cornelius stopped hosting the show in 1993. He later battled health problems, depression, and a contentious divorce. He will be remembered by a generation for the happiness he inspired, even if it proved too fleeting at the end of his own life.

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