With February being Black History Month, writing this particular column was ironically timely, in an eerie sort of way.
On Feb. 1, Don Cornelius was found dead inside his Los Angeles home, purportedly the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Cornelius was best known as the creator, producer, and host of the barrier-breaking television show “Soul Train,” which, by all accounts, still has the distinction of being the “longest-running, first-run nationally syndicated program in television history,” airing from October 1971 until March 2006.
And who could ever forget “Soul Train’s” theme song, the rhythmic, horn-and-string-driven “TSOP,” a.k.a. “The Sound of Philadelphia.”
However, I want to respectfully move past the musical-television personage of Don Cornelius and attempt to explain what, I feel, was his greatest accomplishment to society during his 75 years on earth:
More than anyone else, possibly, Cornelius was responsible for bringing the black man’s music – r&b and soul, namely – into the living rooms of mainstream white America.
Indeed, it was a bold move for all involved: Cornelius, investors, television networks ... and, in some cases, viewers.
America was reeling still from the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and, too, the Vietnam War continued to stir controversy: socially, politically, economically, racially, etc.
Imagine some overall-clad, white farmer in 1971-1972 rural South, needing help getting up the cows, walking inside the house and catching his teenage daughter watching, and dancing to the music of, “Soul Train” on a Saturday afternoon?
However, such is the beauty of Don Cornelius and “Soul Train,” because Cornelius, with his trademark baritone voice and trendy wardrobe, hosted the show with such class, and the music had such heart and soul that, together, they penetrated the very heart and soul of America, to use an intentional pun.
Don Cornelius was an American icon and will remain one throughout the ages.
It was Saturday, Feb. 11, and I was at my friend Ronnie’s house watching the Vanderbilt-Kentucky men’s basketball game.
From nowhere, a news-flash bulletin announced that pop singer and actress Whitney Houston had been found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel. She was only 48 years old.
She was in Los Angeles to attend a pre-Grammy Awards gala on for producer-extraordinaire Clive Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and signed her to her first major record deal.
Though not to be taken lightly, I’ll refrain from going into her battle with substance abuse, and whether such did or did not play a role in her death, for the mainstream media will feast on that for months, years to come.
Neither will I bore you with Whitney Houston’s accomplishments in music and acting.
You name it, she did it, won it, and, ultimately, she is one of the most successful musical artists of all time.
However, I will say this: One would be hard pressed to listen to a more beautifully sung song than Whitney’s cover of the Dolly Parton-penned “I Will Always Love You,” which was the theme song for the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner.
Further, her version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV in 1991, arguably, is the best rendition, ever, of our National Anthem.
If you will, I’m going to bring the controversial Al Sharpton into the mix, and borrow from him something that, I feel, is a keynote to Whitney Houston’s legacy.
Minutes after Houston’s death was announced on television, the Rev. Al, essentially, said Whitney Houston took to a higher level what Diana Ross (formerly of the all-girls, Motown group The Supremes) had created back in the ‘60s: persevering as a black, diva songstress, and doing so with elegance.
February 2012 will go down as a “double-tap” directly to the heart of America.
However, the “soul” created by both Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston will remain immortal.
Mike Vinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.