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February 01, 2012

Don Cornelius, Creator and Longtime Host of Soul Train

A former disc jockey, Cornelius launched a cultural phenomenon with the long-running music show, which aired in syndication for more than three decades.

Don Cornelius, the creator, producer and longtime host of the syndicated music and dance show Soul Train, was found shot dead at his home in Sherman Oaks, California, early on the morning of February 1, 2012. He was 75.

According to news reports, his death appeared to have been a suicide.

One of the longest-running syndicated series in television history, Soul Train was also a groundbreaking venue for numerous African American artists, providing unprecedented exposure to musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Barry White and Michael Jackson in the 1970s and 1980s.

Born September 27, 1936, in Chicago, Cornelius graduated from DuSable High School and served in Korea with the U.S. Marines. While working as an insurance salesman he spent $400 on a broadcasting course and in 1966 he found a part-time job as announcer, news reader and disc jockey on WVON radio. He also worked some hours at WCIU-TV. When his mentor at WVON, Roy Wood, took a job at WCIU and Cornelius was given the opportunity to produce and host a local show, A Black's View of the News.

He created Soul Train in 1970 — working as writer, producer and host. A year later, it began to broadcast nationally, the start of a 35-year run.

In addition to live performances by top musical artists, Soul Train was a showcase for dancers in the audience, who often performed in a dance line, taking turns to show off their moves.

Always a strong brand, the show also spawned a long-running awards show, the Soul Train Music Awards, which premiered in 1987, as well as the Soul Train Christmas Starfest, the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and the Soul Train Comedy Awards.

Cornelius stepped down as host in 1993, and the show ended in 2006.

In 1995, Cornelius was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. He was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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