Friday, August 19, 2022

Soul Train 50th You BLEW it! – An Open Letter/Commentary from Flo S. Jenkins

Soul Train 50th
Soul Train 50th

*(By Flo S. Jenkins) – Soul Train celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, highlighted on the annual Soul Train Awards show, which aired a couple of weeks ago. And, as is usual, millions of folks—Black folks especially—waited with excited anticipation.

We love what we believe the Soul Train show stood for and represented to our communities back in the day when it first came on national television in December 1971. In those very early 70s, entire families—from grandma to very young kids—gathered around their television sets to enjoy young people dancing and looking oh, so good! Young people who were creatively dressed—respectfully, looking authentically Black and proud, with their afros and braided hairstyles, who were talented beyond what they even knew.

They made us feel so proud. Right on! Then, to see—for free—our favorite music artists was a bonus!

Soul Train celebrating 50 years is a big thing! Right? So, the celebration was heavily publicized on all the major television stations. Interviews by news anchors were done on highly-rated national news shows – including some on CNN, MSNBC, and so many others nationwide. And they showed videos of those original 70s dancers—this being a highly worthwhile and celebratory moment that goes deeper than the surface for Black folk. After all, Soul Train being aired nationally, just that alone, kind of meant we were possibly advancing as Black folk. Right? Don Cornelius’ bright idea was an “offspring” that gained some great advantage because of all those civil rights marches & brutal beatings, which led to some advances in many areas of Black life. Including television.

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But let me just get to my point: Where were some of those awesome, history-making dancers who lit up the floor and the lives of so many across America and continue to inspire and be imitated WORLDWIDE today?! C’mon. It’s been 50 years, man. And not once on the Soul Train Awards have those iconic dancers been invited onstage—just to get an applause from the public who loved them so much. C’mon, man, it’s been 50 years! And why couldn’t anxiously awaiting tv viewers been given the honor to see a few of those early dancers even in the audiencefront row seat?

Soul Train Awards tv producers, in my opinion as a journalist and historian, you blew it. What a missed opportunity. What a perfect chance to publicly say “Thank You” to those original 70s dancers by showing or mentioning them somewhere in the awards show celebrating Soul Train’s 50th anniversary. What a missed opportunity you had to bring some great smiles to long-time fans of that awesome television show – and fans who were waiting and waiting to just see one of those dancers. With high expectancy—they were probably thinking, “This time, we gonna see some original Soul Train dancers! It’s been 50 years!”

Producers and others in charge: You blew it. But WHY?

And after all these years of never even mentioning those early dancers’ names on camera during those Soul Train Awards shows, it seems intentional. But I still don’t know why? Nor do some others who’ve expressed their disappointment to me personally. Producers—and others involved with that Awards show—you cannot tell me you didn’t think of those 70s dancers in the opening scenes of the show – when you had the old Soul Train set, and Bruno Mars and that group were singing. You had dancers in that opening setting—so you HAD to know what you were doing to include dancers. You wanted to bring back memories to the viewing audience. Right? What if you had included some of those early 70s Soul Train dancers in with those you had on the 50th-anniversary celebration? What if the camera had spanned across that dance floor and shown some of those 70s dancers getting down?! And trust me, beautiful people like Pat Davis, Sharon Hill, Freddie Maxie, Thelma Davis, and Damita Jo Freeman (along with guys like “Scoobie Doo”, “Skeeter Rabbit”, and “Slim” the Robot, all formerly danced with the Lockers) and more, are still around and can STILL dance and literally run rings around many younger dancers. I’m talking truth, here.

If you ever had the privilege to attend any annual Soul Train Christmas parties or picnics, you’d see for yourself. These former dancers from the 70s (as well as from the 80s, 90s, and beyond) still have fun getting together, loving each other, and getting down in that Soul Train line. People who work with you, producers, know about these gatherings. Did you care or choose to do any research or gather any of those dancers together for a then-and-now kind of video to include in the 50th-anniversary celebration? It’s unbelievable that NOBODY connected with Soul Train productions wouldn’t have brought up some simple ideas like that. A 15-second clip would have brought millions of smiles – and some respect to those dancers.

Here’s my point. You know these dancers are still around because you can hear them tell their stories online with “I Was a Soul Train Dancer” tales. You know how to contact them. So, why, in a celebratory year like the 50th anniversary of that historic show did you still disrespectfully omit them? It’s puzzling. Trust me, some of them want to know. An awaiting public is dumbfounded. And it feels so much like the disrespect many Black folks have felt at the hands of “others” outside of our culture throughout our history. But for Black folk to do this kind of deliberate “overlooking” of people –our own people—who helped bring that show its success is a bit heartbreaking. Whoever is in charge of Soul Train history, Soul Train Awards, Soul Train marketing, etc. may need to re-consider and to re-think a whole lot of things.

The omissions bring more curiosity, questions, and dishonor/disrespect to those in charge. I inquired about including Soul Train dancers in the audience years ago. In fact, I wrote a letter to someone who worked with the Awards show in 2016 asking if the producers would consider allowing 70s, etc. dancers in the audience. I was told they’d “pass my inquiry along”, however, I never received a response to my inquiry.

After getting continual calls over the years, and especially this year, and having conversations with some of the original 70s dancers, they quietly feel the disrespect, too. Why? Because over the course of the Soul Train Awards, what they tell me is that they’ve not been invited. Nor have they even been seen sitting in the audience. Why? If I am wrong, I apologize. But, based on those who’ve contacted me, they’ve never been invited or asked to participate in any way. (Side Note: There’s a Broadway musical about Soul Train coming soon. Have those in charge actively sought involvement of the 70s, 80s, etc. dancers as choreographers or consultants?! Will any, out of respect, be invited to the opening? Or…Will they blow it, too? Time will tell.)

Embed from Getty Images
 

My thought is that if someone has added to your success, why not show appreciation—even in the smallest way? Give a “shout out” in some way. To be blunt: C’mon! 50 years! And you couldn’t give those terrific dancers a short “thank you!” (those who danced on your top-rated show for years for free—with the exception of a small lunch during tapings). Everyone knows this: Soul Train could not have survived successfully without them. So, why wouldn’t you give them AND your tv viewing audience more consideration by allowing those history-making, talented, early dancers a seat at the table, so to speak?

I’m done. But since I’ve not seen anyone else publicly address this, I decided I had an obligation, respectfully—for the sake of Black culture history, history in general, and journalistic curiosity, to do so. And for Soul Train originals who are no longer here—folks like Tyrone Proctor, with whom I discussed this issue; for Don Campbell now deceased, creator of the Locking dance style; and others –now gone.

We’ve gotta do better by and for each other when we have the opportunity to do better by and for each other. Respect and Honor—why can’t don’t we give it to each other—while we’re ALIVE? (Rest in Peace, Mr. Cornelius…And to all the ‘deceased-others’ who contributed so well to your dream.)

Flo S. Jenkins
Flo S. Jenkins / Photo: Daysha H.

Flo Jenkins is an award-winning writer/editor-editorial consultant—a consummate communicator—with an extensive and successful background spanning a variety of industries from entertainment, to advertising and promotions, education, health, non-profit, and staffing. Contact her via her website: WordsThatFlow.com

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