Through music, scripture and song, Don Cornelius was remembered Thursday as the man who elevated black culture and entertainment with his “Soul Train,” demolishing barriers of race and culture, and changing the nation’s history. Hundreds of family, friends, entertainers, sports figures and even some former “Soul Train” dancers gathered to honor Cornelius’ legacy and recall their recollections of the baritone-voiced host and entrepreneur. The nearly three-hour memorial service featured plenty of laughter and music, including a rousing performance of “Love’s In Need of Love” by Stevie Wonder.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a eulogy that centered on how Cornelius’ creation created a platform for black music and culture that hadn’t been seen on television when “Soul Train” debuted in 1970. “Don, we say thanks for being conductor of the `Soul Train’ and laying the tracks,” Jackson said. “We thank you because we needed you so badly and you helped us so much.”
Several speakers noted that Cornelius didn’t just give a platform to performers such as Wonder, Aretha Franklin and the Jackson 5, but he also gave opportunities to black cameramen and demonstrated that television programming aimed at black audiences was viable. At several points during the service, photos of Cornelius on the show’s set were displayed for the gathering, which ended with clips of the popular host dancing and delivering his signature sign-off, “Love, Peace and Soul!!!”
Smokey Robinson joked that Cornelius would often ask guests questions that veered away from their music, such as what they were driving and when they’d last eaten at a particular restaurant. “I’m really happy to be here because Don was my brother and I am celebrating his life,” a smiling Robinson said. “I don’t what the rest of you are doing.” Remaining upbeat, Robinson told the crowd, “He started a platform for black people that before that time had not been seen. It had been heard, but it had not been seen.”