Why Don Cornelius Matters
The significance of Don Cornelius to American culture — and to the American culture business — is told nowhere more eloquently than in one brief exchange between Cornelius and singer James Brown, a story that Cornelius himself recalls in VH-1’s excellent 2010 documentary Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America.
It was the Godfather of Soul’s first appearance on Cornelius’ then-nascent syndicated TV show — designed to do for soul music and black audiences what American Bandstand had long done for pop music and mainstream audiences. Brown marveled at the professionalism of the production, the flawlessness of its execution.
He turned to Cornelius and asked, “Who’s backing you on this, man?”
“It’s just me, James,” Cornelius answered.
Brown, nonplused, acted as if Cornelius didn’t understand the question. He asked it two more times, and Cornelius answered twice again: “It’s just me, James.”
That the man who wrote the song “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and who recorded the soundtrack to the Black Power movement could scarcely comprehend that a black man like Cornelius both owned and helmed this kind of enterprise without white patronage is a testament to the magnitude and the improbability of Cornelius’ achievements.
Read the rest on NPR.com