"The hippest trip in America" is no more, and now the hippest tripper, Don Cornelius, is dead by his own hand.
Our present sadness keeps giving folks reasons to really miss the Seventies. I'm even starting to miss the clothes -- at least the kind of threads one might see on Soul Train.
Listen, I'm a white guy from the Deep South, born in the year of our Lord Jim Crow, Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-One. In the early '70s as they existed in my corner of the world, could there have been a more subversive -- wonderfully, funkily, groovily, terrifyingly (to some) subversive -- program on television?
If 1973 had been 1963 and Baton Rouge had been Birmingham, a TV transmitter would have been blowed up good.
An NPR blog post by Dan Charnas sums up Why Don Cornelius Matters quite nicely:
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.
REST IN LOVE, peace and soul, Don Cornelius.