you guys see this bag?

this bag has NEVER left my side for the past 14 years. I deemed it imperative that i NEVER part with it. you can imagine the arguments i’ve gotten into with flight attendants over that bag. this bag is my blue blanket to my linus. i carry that bag everywhere cause the future is in this bag. and by the future i mean our past. and by our past i mean Soul Train.

Don Cornelius was my first non musical non celeb non blood related hero.

its amazing timing that my arrival on earth and his greatest creative manifestation came within 9 months of each other. both symbolizing a new hope for urban america.

most won’t get it til now (especially now that he’s gone) but i pray that Don knew of the appreciation he had in all of us born after 1968.

you people will have to forgive me…im just kinda writing from the heart….sporadic thoughts tears and snot are spilling out and whatnot. im certain dream and toure and nelson will do his legacy justice in print….i just felt the need to write something.

i just wanna use my position to really let people know that next to Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius was hands down the MOST crucial non political figure to emerge from the civil rights era post 68. the craziest most radical thing of all is i don’t even consider Soul Train his most radical statement. yes the idea of the young black teenager NOT mired in legal trouble on the 6 oclock news getting camera time was a new idea to most…so of course the fact the U.S. really got its first vicarious look at our culture was amazing.

but the TRUE stroke of genius in my opinion was how Don managed to show US how important we were. which was NOT an easy task.

not by premiering the newest jam by james brown

not by focusing on the latest dance craze
not by the crazy outfits….

ill tell you how Don really made a radical statement. and he himself acknowledges it:

the commercials.

Soul Train had double duty, to not only produce a show, but they also had to provide ALL of the production for the Johnson beauty products commercials that was funding the show. often using the set and the soul train gang (they became soul train dancers in 1976) as lead actors.

ok ahmir so where are you going with this?

the genius of it all was THIS was the first time that black people were proud to be called AFRICAN.

psssh before 1971?—i mean on the real…til like the early 80s on some schoolyard insult game ish? if someone called you “african” that was the most insulting degrading lower than low “im finna f**k you up” type of insult.

i know right? why?

to control our mentality during the slave period we were taught we were the lowest of low.

to control us AFTER slavery during the jim crow era we were taught we were the lowest of low.

the first introduction to entertainment (of which we were allowed to participate) was minstrel entertainment an over exaggerated buffoon display of shame and ugliness that we STILL CARRY TO THIS DAY (minus the makeup) (hello hip-hop….but that is another piece altogether).

to say with a straight, dignified face that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was the RISKIEST radical life-changing move that america has seen. and amazingly enough for one hour for one saturday out the week, if you were watching soul train….it became contagious. next thing you know you are actually believing you have some sort of worth.

the whole idea of Afrocentrism in my opinion manifested and spread with Soul Train in its first 6 years.

i saw the impact it had on my mom and dad and how they let the impact trickle down to my sister and me.

i mean i was BORN into it: so i came in this world thinking every african american had it just like i did: some funky dressing, proud, knowledgable parents who since birth exposed me to every record known to man and who kept my crown (make no mistake, i’d cry “mommy cut it off the kids are teasing me!”) on my head as a symbol that one day i would be “a mighty leader”….lol

seriously, they were like “that afro is symbolic because we named you Ahmir and Ahmir means King and to be a King you must have a crown and to lead you must be knowledgeable!”

and with that…Soul Train was about maybe one of 5 tv shows i was allowed to watch on tv. if it was educational pbs or some other similar program then i was allowed but mostly it was all about Soul Train.

and of course watching it as a baby i had no clue Don was trying to program the minds of an untainted generation. hell i don’t even know if HE knew the grand scheme of things. but somehow we rode each other to glory.

once the vcr age came to be, i started religiously recording all the episodes. and back when i became a signed artist i crafted MANY a Dear Santa letter asking if there is anyway possible i can see an episode or two from my childhood.

don’s people never answered me back.

then my 1st trip to japan came.

got off the plane and noticed a weird liking some of the natives were taking to me. and how they all in their weird communication was trying to say they like my “soul train style”.

puzzled i was like “how do yall know that?”

my translator then explained how Don syndicated 100 classic episod—–

that was ALL she had to say: we were in INSTANT “take me to these tapes NOW!!!” mode.

my translator was startled like “where’s the fire?!” but i had to explain to her ALL of my memories were locked inside this show. and because of my limited tv viewing all the thoughts were still fresh in my head.

it took her about 12 hours but she found someone willing to dub all 100 epi$ode$ for me.

after that i was a man on a mission from god.

and EVER since that day i carried those VHS tapes ANYWHERE i went.

why?

to school people.

my first student? D’angelo.

we had JUST started Voodoo and these Soul Train eps were proving to be a MIGHTY educational tool and a source of energy for us.

and day by day you saw and heard the results.

then i started sharing eps with Erykah and so on…

then this artist and so on…

and that artist and so on….

soon after once mini TB drives came into fashion i then started carrying around endless hardrives of Soul Train eps (i got about 400+) sharing with ANYONE within eyeshot a history of a people.

even my thursday night regular spot (Bowl Train at @brooklynbowl) is just an excuse for me to watch my all time favorite show on a movie screen.

Don has left a legacy behind that i will PERSONALLY carry on until i can’t carry anymore.

Soul Train to me is the GREATEST creation and inspiration of my life. i literally watch 5 eps a day just as mere background noise (the best roomate ever is a tv….this is why i cannot be a cat from brooklyn) i will NEVER EVER forget its powerful impact on education on pride on creativity on culture and on me.

i love you don.

love and peace.

Comments

  • damali

    that was so incredibly moving and beautiful. thank you for that!

    as a child born in 1971, i relate to everything you are saying about that show’s impact on black people and our collective psyche. at that time, i didn’t know anyone personally who did NOT watch that show, and if come Monday at school, it was found out that you hadn’t watched it on Saturday, you were so on the outside of every conversation.

    • Greg Caz

      THANK YOU Ahmir. As a Black man born May 26, 1971, I understand PERFECTLY what you’re saying. Watching Soul Train as children taught us that we were SOMEBODY. Those of us our age are one damn lucky generation. Beautiful piece. Rest In Soul, Don.

  • http://mikelovenotwar.blogspot.com Mike Love

    A friend texted me on Don’s assing this morning. I couldnt believe it like when you hear of a family member or close friend passing. I havent been on any sites but this one because I knew I would see a quality tribute & I remember years ago Questlove was posting those old episodes as they ran weekly on WGN. I know I’ll never have 20 TB drives full of sould train eps, but maybe I’ll cop a few on the site

    Love, Peace & Soul…

  • Cat

    As someone born Feb 14, 1970 I can definitely relate and I have the photo too…me 3 years old with an afro. I am so jealous of your collection of soul trains shows. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on Don Cornelius, Soul Train, and his legacy.

  • Ashley

    Waking up to the death of Don Cornelius is absolutely heartbreaking. Words cannot express how he shaped our community, opening doors for some of the greatest artists of all time. Although I’m an ’80s baby, I still remember turning on Soul Train every Sunday to figure out the “Soul Train Scramble Board”, mimicking booty poppin moves that I still use today, and opening my ears to great music by people who looked like me. Thank you, Don Cornelius, for everything you’ve done, and for having the courage to put black people on tv, and opening the gateway for people to enjoy themselves through dance and sound. I with you love, peace, and SOUL…R.I.P, brotha.

  • http://www.visualdialects.com Dawnita xamilia Alst

    Devastated this is a very touching tribute jody all those days at mavericks are flowing back to mind now and his deep voice is all running through my head now thanks for sharing love you girl..

    Love, Peace, And Soul RIP Don

  • http://treeparty.tumblr.com Nellybop

    Willing you love & peace, King. I hope that one day you will see how The Roots have made a positive impact on the lives of black people the way that Don C. made a positive impact. Because Lord knows, “How I got over” is literally “How I got over”! -With love from Philly!

  • Shun McGhee

    A co-worker of mine IM’d me to inform me of Don’s passing. Like you Amir, I am an advid Soul Train watcher. I was given 5 discs of Soul Train episodes for Christmas a couple of years ago. Many people do not realize civil rights is an issue won and lossed on a few fronts. It is an economic, legislative, and cultural battle. Soul Train proved the “we” could be a powerful economic force. Don fought off copy cats in court that would try to bite Soul Train, and he helped us become culturaly proud of ourselves through commercials, entertainers on the show, and the scrabble board.

    Amir, as Don has been a great teacher so have you. The knowledge you share with those in your social circle like D’Angelo and with the world on documentaries like Before The Music Dies is priceless. I believe one is only as good as his teachers and the insight you provide on mediums like youtube has allowed you to be my teacher. Keep teaching brother. Keep sharing. Keep your head up.

    Always,

    Shun

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  • http://knowngallery.com stacig

    thank you quest, you too are an inspiration to the world. dc was way beyond his time and will be missed by everyone who adored and loved him. he is unsung hero in my eyes & many others. keep on keepin on & we intend to do the stroll tonight wherever we are. peace, love & soul

  • Nimaako Brown

    ?uest, thank you so very much for sharing this. I’m familiar with your deep love and appreciation for Soul Train and it’s incredibly heartwarming to read your passion for keeping Don’s legacy alive. Please, please, please continue your work on educating future artists on their cultural and social responsibility.

    Love, Peace & Soul,
    Nimaako

  • Trent

    Beautiful piece, Quest. I was born before 1968 — I was a teenager in the 70′s — but I too grew up with Soul Train and modeled my style after Don and the ST Dancers. I wore my fro huge, my clothes colorful and often African-inspired. The idea of watching American Bandstand seemed even then to be dated and reactionary. In a pre-MTV era, Soul Train every Saturday was where I got to hear the finest musicians of the time, playing without the constraints of the nighttime variety shows. Mr. Cornelius, you will be missed, but Amir, you are an inspiration as well.

  • Brandon

    My prayers go out to all Don Cornelius’s family and friends. Though I missed the Soultrain era as an ’87 baby, I do understand the impact that Soultrain had on the WORLD. Thanks ?uest for the perspective on Don Cornelius’s legacy.

    @?uestlove
    BTW. “Sandwiches EP Pt. 2″???

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  • Viv

    **STANDING OVATION**
    The best tribute to Don Cornelius I’ve read by far, because it is so heartfelt, so real, and it reminds us all why Don Cornelius has his rightful place as one of the most significant figures in 20th century Black history. Thank you for sharing, Quest.

  • http://www.statsmuseum.com Ba Benj

    Thank you for posting this!!! Your love and admiration is felt by us all.

  • Ken Shane

    Beautifully stated sir, full of heart.

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  • http://www.angelonfire.com ANGEL

    beautiful. you were the first person i thought of when he passed because i always hear you talking about your love for soul train. keep the legacy alive!

  • http://None Brownsugar

    A really nice little story ?uest…I thought about you this morning when I heard the shocking news about DC…R.I.P.DC!!!

  • Avonaz

    Well written!! I too share your loss.

  • http://www.yeshacallahan.com Yesha

    Excellent!

  • Karla

    I love you Ahmir! This is just so sad Don was such a big part of our history.

  • http://anitawrite.blogspot.com Anita

    Another 70s baby that truly gets it. Some of my fondest memories were watching Soul Train on Saturday mornings. This is an EXCELLENT summation of the legacy that is Don Cornelius and Soul Train. It’s so sad how icons like Don and Michael die such a sad, lonely and tragic death and it isn’t until after their death that they are appreciated (Glee just did an MJ tribute, heard it was horrible) and that the younger generation comes to know of their greatness. They left this earth feeling so tortured and alone (otherwise, would Don Cornelius have taken his life? Would Michael have hid behind makeup and drugs? Did they know how much they were truly loved?). We need to celebrate the few remaining icons of our youth with they still walk this earth!

  • http://www.funkatopia.com Funkatopia

    Thanks for this Q. I too was born in 1968 and watched the episodes every week. But I was a white kid who lived in the projects of Detroit. I never saw it as any type of racial statement, “great divide”, or a “glimpse of the other side”. It was just – Soul Train. Don was this magical being who made it cool and hip to embrace the culture of soul and funk. I never even considered the impact it had as you’ve described it here.

    Obviously his impact on our own site at funkatopia.com is evident because I think I could say that Don’s contribution launched the careers of many artists that we enjoy and relish. We’re very heavy-hearted to see him leave us and can’t believe how crushing it must have been for you. Hope this post was cathartic for you. Thanks for the insight.

  • Saurus

    I’m from the wrong time, continent and musical background to have any affiliation towards Don and Soul Train. I only knew the show was ever on because of an episode of Fresh Prince wich aired with subtitles; Carlton and Will both want to be on Soul Train (‘they wont even let you drive the Soul Honda so whould you be on Soul Train’).
    I think I actually understand the impact Soul Train had through these words. If it got someone to carry tapes of it around at all time, it must have been great. Thank you Ahmir, for sharing a piece of history that would never be on wikipedia.

  • Angie

    Awesome piece! Well written & it tcaptures the true emotion and the magnitude of Don Cornelius’ affect on all us 70′s babies!

  • Johnozed

    touching and brilliant

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  • http://www.kristinemays.com kristine

    I heard the news before I even got out of bed this morning. Felt like losing family – a close relative, a favorite uncle that I’d always looked up too. Immediately I thought of you because I know how much Soul Train is a part of your life. Thank you so much for writing this and for so eloquently putting into context the importance Don’s life had and will continue to have on history. He was inspiring. You are inspiring. And I know that we each have the power to make an impact on the world – a lasting profound impact.

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  • Chris

    I was this skinny little awkward white kid growing up on the south sideof Chicago. We were pretty damn poor and my mom worked all the time. Cable? Yeah, right. Soul Train was the only show that mattered, that taught us kids how to dance. Couldn’t relate to American Bandstand – who were those kids? Don put people first. The music I heard growing up coming out of car windows, friends apartments, my own radio – it was right there. Don was from here, literally.
    Last summer, a huge free concert for Soul Train’s 40th anniversary in millenium park was beautiful. All love, people hugging and remembering. Generations of people just packed the park. And it accomplished something the lollapaloozas and pitchforkscouldn’t do- a real community with history, proud and open. When Don appeared, the crowd roared more for him than any act he could have brought up. He was home and Chicago reclaimed a son. It was honestly beautiful and made me, with my five year old daughter riding my shoulders, proud of my town, the music, and Don’s dream. Dick Clark made teenyboppers, Don Cornelius made music lovers. RIP.

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  • 341

    Thank you for sharing. Always educational.

  • http://creativetimes.blogspot.com Eleanor Traubman

    Questlove: I remember you sharing some of this when you were on the panel at Paley after they showed Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America.
    It left an impression on me. This is a beautiful piece and I thank you for it.
    You made a difference to Don, too, y’know?

  • Clorissti

    Well said and yes I too can completely relate I was born in February 1971.

    Well said.

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  • E.M.

    When I read the headlines, my first thought was, “my God, why?!” and my second was “my God, Quest!” I remember being at ELS in ’99 when you and D’Angelo would run back and forth between studios, feeling all the crazy energy swirlng around. I’m crying for you now, but I know the legacy is in good hands.

  • Donna Prince

    Amir (Quest), that was sooo on point. I felt like I was reading the words and thoughts of my nephew (Nick Puzo’ aka Nick fresh). I’m so glad you broke down the importance and impact of Soul Train and how it was more than just a mere dance show. Thanks for that. Hopefully, some people who weren’t fortunate enough to remember the Soul Train movement will take this time to research why it has made such an impact on so many lives.

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  • http://allektrik.tumblr.com Lachele Allektrik

    I’m an 80′s baby and I appreciated this piece so much, I swear I cried.

  • JinJin

    Quest…i FEEL YOU! I’ve heard you play at Brooklyn Bowl, danced the night away and totally FELT the Soul Train commercials being displayed in the background even when people I was with didn’t “get it” …I work in PR – I’m a minority there lol…felt even more so when DOn Cornelius’ death was the top news story and my boss – head of PR who i rate highly DID NOT KNOW who he was? Me – incredibly shocked! Are you KIDDING ME???? But it’s a cultural thing most definitely…Born in 1971 I watched RELIGIOUSLY – MY DREAM was to DANCE on Soul Train – planned a trip there when I grew up sadly I never did it..by then I was onto something else but I STILL WATCHED…still admired the moves, the fashion, the security and comfort level of each and every individual on and off the stage…Most of all “the words”…Don Cornelius was professional, articulate, educated and one of the best hosts of all time to me…As a writer and an outspoken individual I respect anyone who masters the art of words and DON did and with that he showed that Black was beautiful and made people question some stereotypes in more ways than one …His legacy will live on…thank you for sharing this…Playing music may be more of your thing but you definitely expressed yourself beautifully here…Thank you and all artists and prominent individuals like you for your contributions to continue the legacy we grew up on.

  • Chuck Payton

    Great article! Well done! Don Cornelius is a TV icon. I would have liked to have seen a book written by Don on Soul Train, but now this can’t happen. He is truly a legend. Thank you for this article.

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  • Ronnie Hathaway

    Man, I Grew up on Soultrain as well, every Saturday, me and my uncle James Speedy coleman would watch the show for the latest artist and the best looking women that the show had to offer. Damn its not like the show is lost, but Don Cortez let us no we had arrived with latest style, clothes, dances and a little academia. i was in total shock like most other fan of Soultrain. Don You will truly be missed, just no we no your in that soul train line in the sky.

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  • http://www.journeysuntold.blogspot.om royally_chic

    Last year, my grandmother, mother myself and my daughter sat down and watched old footage of Soul Train On Demand featuring Al Green “Lay Your Head”, Jackson 5, Teddy Pendergrass, Aretha Franklin and others. We watched some episodes over and over again….especially Al Green, our personal favorite. The confidence the artists held performing on Soul Train’s stage was noticeably different from performing on other stages as a Soul artist. There is power–universal power in music, but to perform for people that look like you, supporting and loving you gives an artist a new canvass…an ability to be yourself without any reservation. Al Green worked the audience captivating young black women and men….to get up close and personal with him and truly feel his his soul. Such an intimate, empowering experience. A true sense of Black pride, Soul pride.

    Ahmir, your tribute to the “Don” brought me to tears…you captured his legacy in such a raw, heartfelt voice. I like to think that four generations of women payed tribute and respect to the “Don” as we spent the day watching old Soul Train episodes. R.I.P. Mr. Cornelius, you gave Soul, it’s rightful platform. Job well done….

    Love, Peace and SOUUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLL!!

  • DAVE

    TO THE THE NOT NOSE KID WHO GREW UP WITH OUT A DAD. DON WAS MY FATHER U COU;LD FEEL HIM REACHING THREW THE TV EVERY SAT TO MAKE U FEEL LIKE U WHERE PART OF THE FABRIC OF THE USA RIP DON

  • http://okayplayer.com otis jefferson

    Man…like most of us I was born after 68, 69 to be exact and grew up on
    Soul Train and never missed an episode. I have never been shocked by the death of a celebrity until now. Don was the coolest cat after my uncle who turned me on to everything and has to left this place we call life. I am shook and have no words. Love, Peace and SOUL!

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  • vonduch78

    Barely making the 70′s cut….1978…..I loved watching Soul Train! Wonderfully written….TCB y’all! Love to Don and you Questo for the piece….peace.

  • Jahi

    Soul Train will forever be embedded in my consciousness. As a child of 1971, it meant everything to me growing up. It was more regular in my life than church on Sunday. Don was like a family member who came over every weekend with cool friends, cool style, and the commercials were the freshest. It wasn’t just 60 minutes of programming, it was a cultural experience. I feel like I’ve lost a real friend. Peace, Love and Soul..forever.

  • zazas

    Thank you, dear, for this lovely tribute. I am old enough to remember it and remember just being totally immersed in it as a kid… RUNNING home from school (Chicago) to catch Soul Train! A scrawny whitegirl quietly humming along & immersing in blackspace for a bit…I’m sorry Don Cornelius suffered in his mind but hope he’s in understanding now…what he built really was important to everything.

    • zazas

      [and now I'm hearing the music from the old "WATSU WATSUUUURIII.. use Afro Sheeeen!"]

  • nbridgeforth

    He was brilliant bringing any races and cultures together. There is no love,peace and soul, if any souls committed suicide. I am just sad that he is gone. There is no peace in Hell. Thou shalt not kill. If you harm your body then you are a murderer.

    • zazas

      FORTUNATELY, all souls come to learn and understand in time, and move on. I really believe that.

  • Juan Maserati

    Ahmir, I’m not made of $$$$ but I would love fly out to the east coast someday to watch those episodes with you man. Perhaps one day . . .

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  • PCS

    I’m blown away by this ode/tribute to Don Cornelius. I am 60s baby unapologeticaly black and oh so proud. Ahmir to this day I never truly understood the profound positive impact that Soul Train, the Johnson & Johnson ads and most importantly Don Cornelius had on the psyche of black folks east coast, west coast and worldwide. Thank you for such a heartwarming and historically insightful blog. Peace, love and Soooooooul.

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  • Carmen CaBoom

    I LOVE, and totally co-sign, all of this. Deep…So deep…in my heaet.

  • Harry MC

    So im gonna comment on the realness of old soul train I also grew up watching the show on whatever channel i switch to.48 17 57, 10 but i got tell ya one really got my attention sitting at the bar (white horse shout out to west p ) and they had a tv 1 marthon of old episodes that was just on the tv without sound cuase the bar had its own entertainment director and it was athe one with Ike and Tina , she is wearing some simple sorta skimpy denum suit and yo they are in the moment HI as the cable bill but man just jammin Ike had them girl on lock and they gave a show. without sound you feel the intensity. I just thought id share the moment with you and by the way the Isley bros ohh yeah fired up I now understand why cats like my father didnt make it back and the drugs took over they fuck good back then man just too good for regular human consumtion. Don had to be getting it in with all them cool people. He always seemed to chill for the times and I sure what he experienced we can only imagine. Ahmir you are a musical genious, Now let me cook for ya company im the truth, plus im serve safe certified. Love Peace and Soul.

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  • http://www.kchronicles.com keef
  • Elmo Hope

    Thank you Ahmir. I have also noticed that there are almost no real instrumental bands out there (besides The Roots) truly playing Don’s music- funky soul or even hip hop music? Why? The one other band that is truly doing it for real is the Soul Rebels Brass Band, which most cats dont even know about, even though they are literally outside of The Roots THE funkiest and most soulful happening purely instrumental bands out there.
    Where is the pocket these days? No one is studying true 2 and 4 anymore. In tribute to Don I command the return of the groove…….
    -wish you love, peace and SOUL!

  • AK47GROOVE

    @Elmo
    thats the truth. need those instrumentals back. all those cats in james brown’s band were so forward thinking. no one has pocket anymore. even p funk – all real and true musicians laying it down.

    i do lOOove the Soul Rebels Brass Band, because they have a phenomenally grooving and funky rhythm section (bass drum, snare and huge sousaphone player) . those cats are off the hook funky because theyve mastered THE POCKET and they’ve studied and treated it like a science.
    @AHMIR, question for you if youre out there – Where are the musicians in hip hop? Where re the players? Don always showcased THE most groovin rhythm sections? where has the rhythmic discipline vanished too?

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