Sooooulllll Train scandal: Dick Clark's brazen scheme to replace Soul Train and Don Cornelius with his own all-black dance show
- Dick Clark was determined to bring his own version of Soul Train on the air and call it 'Soul Unlimited'
- 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
10:36 EST, 21 March 2014
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.
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.
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: 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
Swing! American Bandstand featured local teenagers in Philadelphia dancing to Top 40 tunes in 1957
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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’.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’.
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
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
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.
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.
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
‘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.
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.
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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