Don Cornelius, creator and host of “Soul Train,” a milestone in television programming that introduced generations of viewers to new music and dance trends emerging from black America, died on 1 February of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Los Angeles, according to police. He was 75.
Police responded to a report of a shooting at Mr. Cornelius’s house at about 4am., and he was pronounced dead at a hospital. Police ruled out foul play in the death and said a search of the house did not turn up a suicide note. Detectives were conducting interviews to learn more about Mr. Cornelius’s mental state.
Soul Train introduced television audiences to such legendary artists as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius,” said Quincy Jones. “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. My heart goes out to Don’s family and loved ones.”
The show began in Chicago as a local program in 1970 and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006, bringing the best rhythm & blues, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and having teenagers dance to them. Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.
“There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity,” Cornelius said in 2006, then added: “I’m trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.”
Cornelius, who was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said in 2006 he remained grateful to the musicians who made Soul Train the destination for the best and latest in black music.
“I figured as long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for Soul Train,” Cornelius said.
He stepped down as Soul Train host in 1993.
The Soul Train Awards Cornelius founded will return to the air after a two-year break to recognise those who helped shape R&B music.
Record executive Antonio “LA” Reid, singers Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Chaka Khan and Charlie Wilson will be honoured on the two-hour music special scheduled to air on 29 November. Actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard will co-host the awards.