By Dianne Washington
Don Cornelius was born on this date in 1936. He was a Black television show host and producer.
Donald Cortez Cornelius was born in Chicago in 1936. After high school, he sold insurance before becoming one of the early employees of Chicago’s WVON radio. During that time as a radio journalist inspired by the American Civil Rights movement, Cornelius recognized that in the late 1960s there was no television venue in America for Soul Music.
It was here where Cornelius introduced many Black musicians to a larger audience as a result of their appearances on the Soul Train television show a program that was both influential among African Americans and popular with a wider audience. As a writer, producer, and host of Soul Train, Cornelius was instrumental in offering wider exposure to Black musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, as well as creating opportunities for talented dancers that would presage subsequent television dance programs. Cornelius said, “We had a show that kids gravitated to.”
Besides his smooth and deep voice, Cornelius is best known for the catchphrase that he used to close the show: “… and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul!”
The nationally syndicated dance/music franchise Soul Train, which he hosted from 1971 to 1993. After Cornelius’s departure, it was shortened to “…and as always, we wish you love, peace, and soul!” and was used through the most recent new episodes in 2006. Another introductory phrase he often used was: “We got another sound comin’ out of Philly that’s a sure ‘nough dilly”.
Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008. The 2008 Soul Train Music Awards ceremony was not held due to the WGA strike and the end of Tribune Entertainment complicating the process of finding a new distributor to air the ceremony and line up the stations to air it. The awards show was moved in 2009 to Viacom’s cable channel (formerly BET J), which now airs Soul Train in reruns.
Cornelius appeared at the 2009 BET Awards to present The O’Jays with the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award. On October 17, 2008, Cornelius was arrested at his Los Angeles home on Mulholland Drive on a felony domestic violence charge. He was released on bail. Cornelius appeared in court on November 14, 2008, and was charged with spousal abuse and dissuading a witness from filing a police report. Cornelius appeared in court again on December 4, 2008, and pleaded not guilty to spousal abuse and was banned from going anywhere near his estranged wife, Victoria Avila-Cornelius, who had filed two restraining orders against him.
On March 19, 2009, he changed his plea to no contest and was placed on 36 months of probation. On February 1, 2012, police responding to a report of a shooting found Cornelius at his home at around 4 a.m. He was pronounced dead of a gunshot wound at 4:56 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center