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Dick Clark tried to derail Soul Train

 
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    Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 1:07pm

Sooooulllll Train scandal: Dick Clark's brazen scheme to replace Soul Train and Don Cornelius with his own all-black dance show

Takeover

  • Dick Clark was determined to bring his own version of Soul Train on the air and call it 'Soul Unlimited' LOLErmm
  • Black civil rights leaders were vehemently opposed to Clark's plan.
  • 'Blacks had always had an uneasy relationship with Clark,' claims a shocking new expose
  • 'Clark's reps sent a threatening letter but his takeover attempt failed
  • Soul train introduced black gay culture to the masses with many gay dancers
  • Cornelius tried to discourage hook-ups between the dancers and stars--but he wasn't always successful

By Caroline Howe

PUBLISHED: 10:36 EST, 21 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:36 EST, 21 March 2014

Dick Clark, who dominated TV for teens with his lily-white American Bandstand, tried to have Don Cornelius’ all-black Soul Train taken off the air--and replaced with his own knockoff, Soul Unlimited.

Soul Train, the brainchild of producer and host Cornelius, debuted in 1971 and ran for 35 years.

‘The impact of Soul Train on the television landscape was not lost on Dick Clark. By 1973, Clark was no longer just cherry-picking talent [from Soul Train] but actively trying to co-opt Cornelius’s franchise by launching his own black-themed dance show, Soul Unlimited,' according to a new book, The Hippest Trip In America, Soul Train by Nelson George. 

Clark launched a special episode of his copycat show and despite it being amateurish, with ‘Clark’s power in the record and television industry, including the backing of ABC, this rip-off could have proved fatal to Cornelius’s dream’, the author writes.



Takeover: Producer and host of vanilla hit American Bandstand wasnt enough for Dick Clark. He wanted to grab Don Cornelius reign as kingpin of soul too and do an all-black dance show. Cornelius was furious and never spoke to Clark again.

Hostile takeover: When American Bandstand impressario Dick Clark saw the success of Don Cornelius' Soul Train, he decided to do his own all-black dance show. With Clark's clout,  It would mean the end of Soul Train

All the right moves: The Soul Train crew dance as R&B group The Sylvers perform in Los Angeles in 1976
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All the right moves: The Soul Train crew dance as R&B group The Sylvers perform in Los Angeles in 1976

Swing! American Bandstand featured local teenagers in Philadelphia dancing to Top 40 tunes in 1957
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Swing! American Bandstand featured local teenagers in Philadelphia dancing to Top 40 tunes in 1957

Clark’s power move outraged black political leaders who along with the black community believed that having a black-owned show on television was not only cool, but an extension of the civil rights movement.

Led by Chicago’s Reverend Jesse Jackson, they contacted Clark and ABC executives to protest. ‘The idea that Clark, with whom blacks had always had an uneasy relationship, could kill Soul Train led to threats of an ABC boycott’, George writes.

Black leaders were joined by one of the most powerful men in the history of the black music business—and  also a consultant to ABC, Clarence Avant, who went ballistic when he learned about Clark’s power move.

Avant was invited by Clark to a meeting to discuss Soul Unlimited. ‘Clark wanted my okay’, Avant recalled. ‘He wanted me to endorse his idea. I freaked out. If you do this, there’s no Don Cornelius’, I told him. We had just gotten free enough to have something on TV.

‘I told Dick Clark no – I would not endorse his show’.

Teenyboppers: Clark had an easy style as he quizzed teens about their favorite pop songs and singers. But he was a hard-driving producer who decided he also wanted  to dominate the soul-themed dance genre as well.
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Teenyboppers: Clark had an easy style as he quizzed teens about their favorite pop songs and singers. But he was a hard-driving producer who decided he also wanted to dominate the soul-themed dance genre as well.

Avant then set up a meeting with top ABC executives in New York and met with ABC chairman and founder Leonard Goldenson and president Eldon H. Rule.

'I was very upset, very upset. If Dick Clark had been allowed to do it, then there would have been no Don Cornelius’, the author quotes Avant.


Avant received a threatening letter from William Morris Agency that represented Dick Clark Productions telling him to stay out of their business. But Avant was a powerful force behind the scene in the black music business in the early 1970s and would not be intimidated.

Don Cornelius would never speak to Clark again and Soul Unlimited was dead in the water.


Soul Train was platform shoes, applejack caps, a living gallery of Afro hairdos and bellbottoms….’It’s gonna be a stone gas, honey ‘– was the promise the deep-voiced Don Cornelius made when the Saturday morning television show debuted.
Signed, sealed, delivered: Stevie Wonder was eager to come on the show because of Cornelius. Stevie was one of many black superstar entertainers that performed on Soul Train.
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Signed, sealed, delivered: Stevie Wonder was eager to come on the show because of Cornelius. Stevie was one of many black superstar entertainers that performed on Soul Train.

He had the vision that black music and dancing would be captivating on TV and he was presenting black people in a positive way, showcasing very sexy, young African Americans dancing to the latest R&B, funk, jazz, disco and gospel music.

‘The key ingredient for the success of Soul Train was that it’s very solidly based on black music’, Cornelius told the author before his suicide in 2012.

‘These were the best dance records made for our beginning period, our second decade, our third decade and any future decades. The best dance records made during those periods were black records. Made by black artists, black singers, black musicians. The best dance music was our folks. We just played the best dance records possible’.

Michael Jackson never appeared on the show, but he copied a backsliding dance that was performed on Soul Train by the Electric Boogaloos and Michael dubbed it the moonwalk. When Jackson appearance on NBC’s broadcast of Motown 25, a celebration of Barry Gordy’s label in 1983, he did what is actually the backslide.

That dance had debuted on Soul Train in 1979.

Say what? Years before Michael Jackson did his moonwalk, the Electric Boogaloos performed the backslide on a Soul Train episode
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Say what? Years before Michael Jackson did his 'moonwalk', the Electric Boogaloos performed the backslide on a Soul Train episode

 ‘What they call the moonwalk is not the moonwalk’, Electric Boogaloo member Robot Dane said. ‘It’s the backslide. The moonwalk actually looks like you’re walking on the moon, like Marcel Marceau…Backsliding is you’re going backwards.’

The best black artists wanted to be on the pulsating “Sooooooollllll Train! James Brown, the Godfather of soul came on making the show a crucial stop for established stars.

Barry White followed, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Jermaine Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Spinners…even Elton John and David Bowie asked to be on the hottest and sexiest dance show on television.

What went on behind the scenes of the Saturday morning show that Cornelius considered a black American Bandstand was so hot, recording artists asked to be on the show so they could get close to the dancers. It was the hypersexual atmosphere of Los Angeles in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Smokey Robinson was reportedly so hot for one Soul Train dancer, she inspired him to write ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy,’ and Marvin Gay wrote his album I Want You inspired by a seventeen-year-old dancer named Jan he would later marry.

Cornelius tried to discourage the barely legal female dancers from hooking up with singers and musicians they met on the show. He didn’t want Soul Train to be considered a home base for groupies or a hookup spot. But he had a hard time enforcing it.

A number of dancers on the show were gay and Cornelius just accepted it. So black gay culture had a platform and Soul Train introduced gay culture to the masses.

Dancer Jody Watley told the author: ‘Soul Train had an obvious black male gay culture going on, and for that reason the show was also quite forward. Don allowed everyone to be themselves on camera’.

Gay pride: Platform shoes, applejack caps, Afro hairdos--Soul Train was a trendy show and gay dancers were common. Don allowed everyone to be themselves," said dancer Jody Watley
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Gay pride: Platform shoes, applejack caps, Afro hairdos--Soul Train was a trendy show and gay dancers were common. 'Don allowed everyone to be themselves," said dancer Jody Watley

One popular dance on the show was called waacking, moving arms and hands through the air like a fan with great speed with elbows bent and arms twirling.

Popular Soul Train dancer, Tyrone Proctor, brought these dances back from the gay clubs and Lady Gaga waacks in her music videos today.

Another popular dance on the show, the bump, also came out of gay  clubs.

Actress/dancer/choreographer Rosie Perez grabbed the spotlight on Soul Train at age 19 when she came out to LA from Brooklyn. Rosie was viewed as being aggressive and sexy, ‘like a machine gun.’ Other dancers were intimidated at first and weren’t initially kind.

'Don Cornelius did not want to see how I really danced’, said Perez. ‘I was doing hip-hop, and it was foreign to people out in California. They only knew about popping and locking, so they were not keen on hip-hop dancing.

‘Then I had to dance in high heels, and I never danced in high heels before, and I had this little tiny short dress, and it’s riding up my ass and I’m like, Oh my God. I couldn’t move.

‘The first couple of times, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was just excited and nervous and scared and just elated. That was my style. A bunch of nerves just oozing out of my body.

Doomed: Cornelius and wife Viktoria arrive at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party  on February, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. She filed for divorce that same year.
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Doomed: Cornelius and wife Viktoria arrive at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party on February, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. She filed for divorce that same year.

 ‘I was very proud of my body back then. I was hot’.

Cornelius wanted Rosie to join a female vocal trio he was putting together and sign a contract. She refused even after he took her out to dinner. She didn’t dance again on the show but a lucky break came for her when she was visiting the show and dancing by herself in the corner. She was spotted by record company executive from MCA and signed a choreography contract to teach singers how to dance.

‘That was the beginning of my choreography career’, Rosie says. ‘That’s how it all started. It started from Soul Train’.

Grammy winning singer/songwriter Jody Watley began as a Soul Train dancer. When her family moved out to Los Angeles, she was fourteen and desperate to get on the show. When she finally made it, she became a celebrity and made fun of at school for the outfits that she wore.

Coming up Rosie: Rosie Perez got her start as a dancer on Soul Train when she was 19. She was aggressive and sexy.
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Coming up Rosie: Rosie Perez got her start as a dancer on Soul Train when she was 19. She was aggressive and sexy.

‘You just have to be fearless. Not really minding if you might be ridiculed for wearing something. You’re not afraid to be who you really are’. She was on the show for three years and auditioned for a record label – which set her major recording career in motion.

Nick Cannon,  now married to Mariah Carey stated he came out of the womb watching Soul Train. He danced on the show and would return as performer. It was the thrill of a lifetime, he says.

In the early 1980s, Don Cornelius was diagnosed with a congenital malformation of the blood vessels in his brain, a life-threatening condition. He underwent a twenty-one hour operation in November, 1982. He was back at work six months later. In 2001, he had married Viktoria Chapman, a statuesque Russian blonde who flaunted her deep cleavage. She was a former Miss Ukraine who had modeled in Russia before hooking up with Don.

By 2006, Cornelius wanted out of the business and he called Avant. He knew the music scene had moved on. The syndication model that Soul Train used was outmoded in the twenty first century

Culture clash: Soul Train was Don Cornelius baby, a breakout show that broke racial barriers on TV and featured superstars like James Brown. Black leaders were incensed when Dick Clark tried to unseat Cornelius by producing a show called Soul Unlimited, according to a new book, The Hippest Trip In America, Soul Train by Nelson George.
+12
Culture clash: Soul Train was Don Cornelius baby, a breakout show that broke racial barriers on TV and featured superstars like James Brown. Black leaders were incensed when Dick Clark tried to unseat Cornelius by producing a show called Soul Unlimited, according to a new book, The Hippest Trip In America, Soul Train by Nelson George.
+12

Culture clash: Soul Train was Don Cornelius' baby, a breakout show that broke racial barriers on TV and featured superstars like James Brown. Black leaders were incensed when Dick Clark tried to unseat Cornelius by producing a show called Soul Unlimited, according to The Hippest Trip In America, Soul Train

It needed to be contemporary like American Idol. Cornelius sold Soul Train in the spring of 2008. He was 71 and a very rich man.

Chapman filed for divorce in 2007 and while the couple were estranged, she pepper sprayed Cornelius after heated arguments in 2008 at their Mulholland Drive house and she took out restraining orders on him.

He was formally charged with spousal abuse and placed on 36-month probation. The divorce was final in May 2009 and he was ordered to pay her $10,000 a month in spousal support, buy her a home not to exceed $1,095,000, and pay tuition fees for her daughter adopted by Cornelius.

When Don grew despondent several years later, friends suggested it was due to a cancer scare. On February 2, 2012, he was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was seventy-five.

Since late in 2012, Magic Johnson has become a spokesman for the Soul Train brand and is trying to launch a new weekly show and produce a biographical film on Cornelius.

When Don Cornelius first landed a job at Chicago’s WVON as a news reader and street reporter, he covered the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King and the riots in 1968. He walked down a Chicago street with King.

It was always in his head that he wanted to help black talent get on television and be featured in a positive way. It bothered him that blacks were featured in a negative way and thought he could change that.

And he did…with 35 years of ‘love, peace and soul…..’


The Hippest Trip in America, Soul Train by Nelson George is available from Amazon



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tatee View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (4) Thanks(4)   Quote tatee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 1:56pm
good read Thumbs Up

long as hell thoLOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote naturesgift Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 2:21pm
Soul Train was great! But this whole thing has been going on for ever
Wait was is BLACK GAY Culture? huh? Who wrote this?

Edited by naturesgift - Mar 21 2014 at 2:24pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Katrenia Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 2:44pm

Myself and many others thought this was the Asian dancer. I'm not sure.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PurplePhase Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 2:54pm
At one time, my life's goal was to be a soul train dancer lol. Thankfully, I grew out of it, but I loved them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote tatee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 3:04pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote PurplePhase Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 3:07pm
yes! we loved her.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote nekamarie83 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 3:11pm
Originally posted by tatee tatee wrote:

good read Thumbs Up

long as hell thoLOL
this & not at all surprised at clark. Ermm

 the hippest trip doc on vh1  was great. Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Az~Maverick Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 4:16pm
Originally posted by PurplePhase PurplePhase wrote:

yes! we loved her.

Absolutely! For me, it was between her and that black girl with the extremely long hair on Solid Gold.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote newdiva1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar 21 2014 at 4:25pm
yeah.  I remember watching a documentary on Soul Train.  Muhfuccas was tryna steal it left, right and center.  Don was not having it.
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