February 1, 2012, - 11:08 pm

Don Cornelius, RIP: What You Won’t Read About Him From the Hip-Hop Crowd

By Debbie Schlussel

As you probably know, Don Cornelius, host and producer of TV’s “Soul Train” for decades, died today of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  I have to laugh as I read the tributes to Cornelius from the rappers and the rest of the hip-hop crowd.  That’s because, while he was considered by many to be the father of “urban culture” and is credited with making it mainstream in America, Don Cornelius had mixed views on rap.  In fact, he was one of the driving forces behind what became a ratings system for records and felt that even this did not go far enough.  And, yes, he became a Republican.  I know–it doesn’t fit with the Al Sharptons and other bandwagon-jumping shakedown artists and race merchants of the urban world.

And it’s a fact that Don Cornelius was the ultimate American capitalism success story. When he died, it was in a stately mansion. He was an entrepreneur who created, produced, and hosted a successful product. And he became very wealthy from it, without government subsidies or affirmative action preferences. If his success wasn’t the epitome of the free enterprise system, I don’t know what is. When I was a kid, and I saw that show come on in re-runs after I got home from school, I quickly turned the channel. Some of the dancing on that show was really ridiculous, not to mention, slutty and way-too-suggestive. Today, it would be tame, and that’s partially because he bears some responsibility for bringing this negative aspect forth to dominate American pop culture. But I wasn’t the target audience, and he gave a lot of terrific, talented Black artists, like Whitney Houston and “The Jackson Five,” great exposure which helped launch their careers.


I can’t remember when it was, but ultimately, at some point during the Clinton or George W. Bush administration, Don Cornelius publicly declared that he’d become a Republican.  I can’t find it anywhere on the Net, but it happened.  Perhaps, we can’t find it because the rapper crowd doesn’t want that narrative–that the Father of Modern Soul saw the light.  But he did.

And more than thought, Don Cornelius called rap a form of “pandering,” even though “Soul Train’s” fare evolved into rap before Cornelius stopped hosting it.  His opposition to violent rap is mentioned in the book, “Hip Hop America.”  He didn’t like the way rap degraded women and attacked hard work and values.  He especially spoke out against gangsta rap, which is basically the dominant form of it today.  In his testimony before a Congressional hearing on February 11, 1994, Cornelius played both sides–he was against any censorship of rap and compared its pandering to that of politicians who support law and order.  However, he also said this:

It goes without saying that anyone who sells
any form of entertainment which is either antisocial or illegal in
nature and cannot be indulged in except behind closed doors, is en-
gaged in what could be defined as pandering. This same standard
should also apply, regarding hard-core or gangsta rap. . . .

Rap music and all other recordings — I repeat, all other recordings — do need to be rated just as movies are. Records by any recording artists which are violently or sexually explicit or which promote illegal drug or firearm use or any other antisocial behavior should be clearly marked and identified as X-rated. The parental guidance sticker system presently being used in the recording industry is simply not enough.

He went on to recommend something stronger than the ratings system which was adopted by the Recording Industry Association of America. Sadly, that never happened.

And maybe all of that had something to do with why he became a Black Republican.  Was he a “liberal Republican?”  Probably, but at least he made the switch, and that’s a huge move for the father of “Soul Train.”  I can’t find any records of political donations he made to anyone.

In any event, while he recommended little restraint against the rap industry, he saw it for what it was–not a civil rights movement of any sort, but something that was, in his own words, “anti-social.”

Don Cornelius, RIP.

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30 Responses

Sound like a great american succes story,but why did he commit suicide? I wonder if maybe he had an incurable disease ? Sad ending to what could ve been a great life and story to the end.well now all I can say is I hope be is resting in peace.

Juan on February 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm

From my understanding based on what I’ve been reading, Cornelius in his last years was beset by a whole set of health problems including a stroke.

But this pioneering show actually began in 1970 on a little UHF station in Chicago, WCIU-TV (Channel 26), where he was also anchoring “Black’s View of the News” at the time. After securing another sponsor besides the one he had for his local version of “Soul Train,” Cornelius decided to bite the bullet in 1971, secure national syndication, and produced a version of his show for that purpose in Hollywood (and in color; the local version, like the station where it was originally born, was in black-and-white through the mid-1970’s). It was at that point that his “baby” reached the national consciousness.

ConcernedPatriot on February 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm

I remember his show in the 70s as it was a signal that Saturday morning cartoons were over and that it was time to go outside and play. I remember lots of huge ‘fros and bell-bottoms.

DS_ROCKS! on February 2, 2012 at 1:37 am

I was sad when I heard it may have been suicide. His show made me think of my Dad because he would put in on Saturday afternoons. It wasn’t my cuppa but some of the music was good and I know Don Cornelius loved the sound of Philadelphia as I always did and still love to this day.

It’s sad most black music artists today are known for crappy, old rap. R&B used to be awesome and had diversity. The 70’s were the best for the genre. Genius stuff!

Soooooooooooooooooul train!

Skunky on February 2, 2012 at 2:18 am

What a hypocritical fraud he was. He went on and on about the negative affects of violent rap music, then he himself pleads no-contest to beating his wife.

Scott on February 2, 2012 at 2:23 am

    scott, you can find similar “hypocricies” in most people’s lives… cornelius may have profited from producing the very type of music he criticized, but he did make his objections to the new “artform” known and did what he could. he could’ve just as easily sat back and milked it for all it was worth.

    not sure what the relevance of his domestic abuse charges are compared to his cultural significance and personal succeses.

    KIRCHE on February 2, 2012 at 10:31 am

loved watching soul train thru the 70’s and 80’s… for me, a white kid growing up in an all-white suburb of detroit, it was how i became familiar with black people.

in a way, soul train painted a relatively positive image of blacks for white america to embrace; they were passionate and flamboyount, had a great appreciation for music and were great recording artists themselves. soul train gave you the cutlrual differences and nuances of contemporary blacks during those decades…

don cornelius himself — who spoke intelligently on the show — did a great service in providing a positive black image to america. these days, he’d be derided by the black community for his proper use of the language.

…but rap turned all of this around and has driven the deepest wedge between american blacks and whites.

KIRCHE on February 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

We can count on Debbie Schlussel for information and a perspective we can get nowhere else. Debbie Schlussel…like no other.

This is fascinating piece and, of course, any example of successful entrepreneurial, free market success is music to me.

bobguzzardi on February 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

In addition to being an entreprenuer, he was also a former Marine and Chicago Police Officer. Quite a productive life. I’m sorry he felt the need to end it.

D. O'Nay on February 2, 2012 at 10:39 am

Your view is of D.C. is wrong and way off. He was a great man.

Ke ke Hammonds on February 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

In addition, the basic format for “Soul Train” was actually fashioned by Drew Leach, who worked as a director at WCIU-TV Chicago where the program was born in 1970. He wrote of his experiences working on the show on a website devoted to classic Chicago television. He noted that much of the lines Don used were adapted from another program that aired on the same station, “Red, Hot and Blues,” a dance show hosted by Big Bill Hill. It was Leach’s template that Don rode to iconic status.

ConcernedPatriot on February 2, 2012 at 11:05 am

Debbie I love how you can put things in perspective. I wish that you had at least a talk show on the radio. That way I wouldn’t have to listen to sean walbanger hannity on my long commute from work. Anyway I was sadden to learn about the passing of Don Cornelius. Debbie you and I are the same age and I remember watching Soul Train on Saturdays after the cartoons went off. Also I wonder why he shot himself. Oh well he’s in a better place now. RIP Mr Cornelius. Love, peace, and soul.

ken b on February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Dude,there alternatives to Sean Vanity,if you have Iheart radio,I love qhat s her name…?Dana Loesch on 97.1 in St Louis….she is very close intelectually and fearless as Debbie,don t get me wrong I d pay to bear DS on the radio,but until then Dana is very good,nono of that pc crap spouted by Vanity,but true conservatism.

    J: Loesch is a creation of Huffington Post founder Andrew Breitfraud and she’s paid by CNN. Nothing she spouts “intellectual” or “fearless.” She’s a deep thinker? Not even close. Just a spouter of the GOP/Hannity/Breitfraud party line. Never has any unique insight into anything or original thinking whatsoever. And she’s around because Hannity pal and true liberal Breitfraud promotes morons who are loyal to him and Vannity. Breitfraud kicked me off his site for exposing Vannity’s Freedom Concert scam and the fraud of another of his pals, Steven Crowder. And I’d already basically left, anyway, b/c I don’t write for others’ websites for free so they can make money off my back–the Breitfraud model. Please do not compare me to that vapid, airheaded echo chamber Dana Loesch. If the Kardashians are “intellectual,” then she might qualify. Oh, and she’s tight with those who promoted and praised Muslim death, rape, and torture threats against me. That’s fearless? Hardly. DS

    Juan on February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Ok… I stand corrected,these are things I didn t know….I admit reading DS postings is like being inmersed in an intensive course of political science,a politically incorect guide to islam,a lesson or two on true conservatism….I didn t mean any disrespect and Debbie hou have my utmost admiration thank you for being the leading voice against the jihadists and thank you for being fearless.

      Juan on February 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm

        Juan, that is how we all learn here. DS will tell us the true scoop and I can say at least for me, I value her opinion strongly because it has been my experience to see what she says comes true (sometimes slowly, but these people roll slowly sometimes) whether I like it or not. In my experience her track-record is excellent. I learned about Malkin and Medved here (although with Medved, I had noticed how milque-toasty he was on Obama right before she let me know the deal on him…and she is correct).

        I also learned about Breitbart from her and Sean here. And if I hadn’t, the way he handled some Anthony Weiner photos showed me he was a real DB (Not that I feel sorry for AW, I sure don’t, but Breitbart did something he said he wouldn’t and I thought that was wrong). Also, when his book came out it showed him to be arrogant…something I had not seen before with him (not that I was looking). Sometimes I hear him on other shows and I listen but with an ear that says “Yeah, I know what you are all about you fraud!”

        I didn’t know that about DL and it’s good to know. Also, it was good to learn that AB did take action against DS after that Vannity story (everyone should read it if you haven’t)…I had known he was upset and DS’ message makes it more clear to me. Shows his true colours!

        I also found out about the Slobbert guy and Pam Gellar here too.

        I really like good talk radio so I tend to not listen to the sorts that get their talking-points from the RNC and I like the ones that are independant thinkers.

        I like “Quinn & Rose” the best!

        Skunky on February 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm

          Thank you skunky,from what you said I now know I have a looooot to learn, there are things I didn t even know I didn t know,I am glad I came across DS’ s site,I ve only have a reader for a few days/weeks maybe and I like it so much,Debbie is such a courageous woman and truly admirable one.

          Juan on February 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Thank you for this Debbie — I always learn so much from you!

mominminnesota on February 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I still want to dance like a black man. *sigh*

PolitiJim (@politiJim) on February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I still look up the old Line Dance video’s on you tube. You better be careful though Debbie, Rachel Madcow or Rectum Al Sharpton will accuse you of “racism” on MSNBC!!!

Hollywood on February 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Debbie, thanks for giving us the scoop on Dana Loesch, and I already knew that she worked part-in-parcel for Andrew Breitbart. When I was a former poster on Breitbart’s website, I saw Dana Loesch’s name on Breitbart’s linkage section of his website (I remember seeing you’re name DS about a few years ago before you and other folks broke the story of Hannity’s slush-fund scams). And I didn’t know that Dana Loesch is on the CNN payroll, hell, I don’t watch NONE of the cable news channels anymore, I haven’t watch any of the cabale news channels since the last presidential election!

“A nation is defined by its borders, language & culture!”

Sean R. on February 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Scott, the wife beating occurred after the stroke, apparently. Strokes are associated with depression and impulse control disorders. His testimony to Congress was 18 years ago, roughly. RIF, as DS would say.

Occam's Tool on February 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm

DS This quote from Mr Corneliius testimony flies in the face of your op that “he saw it for what it was–not a civil rights movement of any sort, but something that was, in his own words, “anti-social.””

http://www.archive.org/stream/musiclyricscomme00unit/musiclyricscomme00unit_djvu.txt
As to the question: “Why would African-American youth be so receptive to the
marketing of nard core and Gangsta Rap and the messages within?”, I would ask:
“Why wouldn’t African-American youth pay attention to artists who seem to fully
understand the lifestyle problems that African-American youth face. And why
wouldn’t African-American youth be anxious to listen to recording artists who are
willing to openly discuss and dramatize many of these dire problems within the con-
text of their records?”

Please keep in mind that, for the most part, these are African-American youth for
whom America has shown no real concern for, at least during the past decade or
more. These are African-American youth in whom our country has invested very lit-
tle over the past decade in terms of channeling economic assistance and better
training and education to them and to the adults they rely upon. Over the last dec-
ade our country has invested almost nothing toward creating the kinds of oppor-
tunity which would allow such citizens to eventually better their Uves, their sur-
roundings and ultimately their futures as Americans. I tend to wonder if we
shouldn’t be far more concerned about eliminating poverty violence, despair and
hopelessness from low income African-American communities than we £ire about
eliminating Gangsta Rap.

In spite of its many critics and detractors, rap music has, indeed, been very effec-
tive and in some ways a Godsend in providing entertainment relief and in many
cases economic relief to a largely forgotten community.

Hizzzoner on February 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Hizzzoner, your post is chock-a-block full of puked up pablum. Puh-leeze!

    Your last paragragh is utterly racist. Saying there but for the cash-king of rap music, black Americans would have no respite and/or $$$ otherwise. Pathetic.

    You know what the big problem is. The break-down on the stable, two parent black family. With a 71% out-of-wedlock birthrate hardly ANYONE in that percentage has a running chance. ANYONE!

    THAT’s what must be tackled. But one will have to run the gauntlet of race pimps like Jesse Hi-Jackson (who is a dead-beat dad to his out-of-wedlock baby) and Weird Al Sharpton (a racist puke but still embraced by the left and the right in USA) and heavy, heavy white guilt with certain blacks using it to cow whitey and many dopey whites too afraid to speak the truth because they are cowed.

    It’s all in Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt”. Read it and weep.

    Skunky on February 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Skunky Reading Is Fundamental. The last paragraph that you referenced is a direct quote from Mr. Cornelius’s 1994 testimony before congress and he did not position rap music as “the only respite for blacks” as you stated. Anywho, DS actually put a link to this statement within her blog. Perhaps you should read her post in its entirety, links and all.

      BTW, thank you for confirming that hate mongers are likely to be illiterate too.

      Hizzzoner on February 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm

        Nice try Hizzz. Perhaps you should should google what QUOTATION MARKS are. Funny, I don’t see any in your post so YOU should post with more clarity.

        And ha-ha-ha. You WISH I was a hate-monger. My dad was half black so shove it up YOUR racist, Liberal clacker.

        Truth hurst. Hard for ANYONE to get around that dastardly 71% number. ANYONE!

        Skunky on February 3, 2012 at 1:24 am

    I’m sorry—HUGE resources have bveen devoted to the Black Community. The problem is a lack of MED who are responsible for and to their progeny. Start with that. Rap is garbage.

    Occam's Tool on August 1, 2014 at 12:24 am

Don was the black Ed Sullivan with much more style giving a jump start enabling many entertainers such as Aretha and Little Stevie to cross the musical “eight mile road” into the white Pat Boone Elvis pablum, he gave a face to the music on the radio referred to as Bop, DuWop, or “race music.
Soul Train broke the bandstand sound barrier, and unlike bandstand he was first to feature both races on his show.
No prude, the Soul Train Dancers were the seventies incarnate fueling adolescent wet dreams.
As far as Rap, I heard that it was inspired by an African Tradition known as “the signifying monkey”. Personally I had no trouble with the turntable trick and breakdancing.
In case no one noticed Southern blues had its own code for sexual activity from the “Jelly Roll” to “Deep sea diver” to”churning butter” etc etc. After all dancing was always considered a prelude to something else, once the waltz was considered “shocking”.
As far as advertising your hot dogs without a licence to shock and sell I totally disagree with that.
NWA’s popularity was based on the joint themes of race/ war/sex/hate with AK’s and mak tens extensions of the new black male virility. Note the violent shootings inside and outside the theaters where ultra violent rap based gangsta flicks eg “Dead Presidents” exploited the black teen underclass. I hear hollywood pimps are backing a new updated blaxploitation flick based on the LA riots, can’t wait to see who will write the action”gangsta” glorifying lyrics to that score.
Don Cornelius rocked,I hope he will be remembered for the roll model and mench he was.

Ron Wolf on February 3, 2012 at 12:11 am

Well put. More like this please. 😉

-Pat

Pat in Michigan on February 3, 2012 at 12:58 am

You don’t see this article as the least bit racist? Hmmmmm….

Maggie on May 2, 2015 at 12:29 pm

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