Soul Train founder Don Cornelius commits suicide

NBC: Don Cornelius in 1973

POSTED: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 2:28pm

UPDATED: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 6:50pm

Don Cornelius, creator of the long-running TV dance show "Soul Train," is dead at 75 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Los Angeles police say.

Cornelius' death was discovered early Wednesday morning at his Sherman Oaks, Calif. home.

Us Weekly reports that when Cornelius was in court in 2009 for divorce proceedings, he complained of "significant health issues."

"Soul Train" began in 1970 in Chicago and aired in syndication from 1971 to March 2006, featuring primarily African-American musicians. It brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.

Stars such as Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, James Brown and Stevie Wonder appeared on the show.

Watching the show became a weekly ritual in many households, especially African-American homes. Author Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote in theGrio that "It was virtually a black household ritual to do one of two things when Saturday rolled around and it was Soul Train time. One was to sway, swoon, and sing the lyrics belted out by the parade of R&B legends and top hit artists ... The other ritual was to dance, or more likely stumble around the living room, trying to do our best imitation of the latest dance steps displayed by the show's perpetual motion gyrating couples."

Popular features on the show included the "Soul Train Line," where individual dancers showed off their moves between two lines of people, and the "Soul Train Scramble Board," where dancers unscrambled letters that spelled the name of that night's performer or a prominent African-American.

The show began each episode by welcoming viewers to "the hippest trip in America" and closed by wishing them "love, peace and soul."

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