Friday, November 26, 2021

Author Ericka Blount Danois Dishes on the Untold History of ‘Soul Train’

don cornelius*It’s been three years since Don Cornelius, founder of “Soul Train,” committed suicide. But author Ericka Blount Danois opened up recently to Jet Magazine about his impact and talked about her new book, “Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show.”

What inspired you to write about Soul Train?

Ericka Blount Danois: I grew up in a musical household, surrounded by my father’s extensive record collection and books. My dad worked at a record store and eventually became a disc jockey. Growing up, tuning in to Soul Train meant everything on Saturday mornings. We stopped whatever we were doing to watch it. For a lot of us, it was the only opportunity to see our favorite artists perform. As an adult, I wondered what happened to some of my favorite dancers. I wrote a few “Where Are They Now?” pieces about dancers Cheryl Song and Shabba Doo. Then, I started finding out more information about the program itself: that Don Cornelius owned the show, he invited personalities such as Richard Pryor to guest host, stars were made on the show, and more. Also, I found out about all the business opportunities that grew out of the show. Don Cornelius started a Soul Train dance studio, a Soul Train nightclub and a Soul Train record label. He was light-years ahead of his time, post-segregation. I thought the history was fascinating and needed to be documented.

How did you go about collecting the information you needed for such a comprehensive book?

EBD: I started doing the research in 2009 and the book was published four years later. The process entailed watching hours and hours of Soul Train episodes, researching everything about Soul Train and its offshoots and interviewing over 200 people about Soul Train: artists, musicians, Don Cornelius’ family, people who worked on the show, dancers, etc. The hard part was creating and organizing the narrative. I wanted to write it as a narrative, rather than as an academic analysis, because it was a great story.

What did you most enjoy about writing it?

EBD: Interviewing some of my favorite artists: Charlie Wilson, Bobby Womack, etc. It was a pleasure to get their hilarious behind-the-scenes stories. I enjoyed going back in time by watching the episodes—just amazing artistry on all levels. I also liked learning more about some of the folks in the background. Like the artist Floyd Norman, who, back in the ’70s, drew the Soul Train intro. Don Cornelius made sure to employ Black talent on every aspect of the show.

Read more of the interview at Jet Magazine.

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