Former disc jockey Don Cornelius, the creator of ¬†the USA‚Äôs breakthrough TV show ‘Soul Train’ has died in an apparent suicide. He was aged 75.
Los Angeles police responded to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his Mulholland Drive home at around 4am this morning. He was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Don Cornelius was born in Chicago in 1936 and worked at the Chicago radio station WVON a station owned in the 1960s by Len and Phil Chess and featuring broadcasters such as ‘Lucky’ Cordell, Herb Kent ‘The Cool Gent’,¬†E. Rodney Jones, Bill ‘Butterball’ Crane and Pervis Spann.
Originally a journalist he was inspired by the civil rights movement, and soon recognised there was no national outlet on television for popular soul music.
‘Soul Train’ began broadcasting in 1970 as a local TV show in Chicago and was broadcast nationally from 1971 to 2006, introducing television audiences to R&B and soul artists. It became the longest running syndicated show in TV history.
It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, bringing the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV.
Cornelius was the first host and executive producer. ‘Soul Train’ with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not an immediate success. Only a handful of stations initially were receptive.
“When we rolled it out, there were only eight takers,” he recalled in a 2006 interview. “Which was somewhere between a little disappointing and a whole lot disappointing.” The reasons he heard? “There was just, ‘We don’t want it. We pass,'” he said, with race going unmentioned. “No one was blatant enough to say that.”
‘Soul Train’ arrived on US TV screens when the country was still reeling from the civil rights movement protests and political upheaval.
The show’s dancers introduced Americans to new dances and fashion styles, and the Soul Train Dance Line.
The show’s power began to wane in the 1980s and 1990s and¬†Cornelius stepped down as ¬†host in 1993.¬†In his later years, Cornelius had a troubled marriage. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanour spousal battery.