Soul Train

Soul Train
Soul Train
Soul Train.png
Format Musical variety
Created by Don Cornelius
Starring Don Cornelius
various guest hosts
Mystro Clark
Shemar Moore
Dorian Gregory
Narrated by Sid McCoy
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 1,117 (List of episodes)
Producer(s) Don Cornelius
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s)

Don Cornelius Productions

Tribune Entertainment
Original channel Syndication
Original run October 2, 1971 (1971-10-02) – March 25, 2006 (2006-03-25)
External links

Soul Train was an American musical variety show that aired in syndication from October 1971 to March 2006. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul, and hip hop artists, although funk, jazz, disco, and gospel artists have also appeared.

As a nod to Soul Train's longevity, the show's opening sequence (during later seasons) contained a claim that it was the "longest-running, first-run, nationally syndicated program in television history," with over 1,100 episodes produced from the show's debut through the 2005-06 season.

The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer, and aired first-run episodes from 1971 to 2006. Production was suspended following the 2005-2006 season, with a rerun package (known as The Best of Soul Train) airing for two years after that. Despite this, in years on air, Soul Train will continue to hold the honor of the longest, continuously running first-run syndicated program in television history until at least 2016, if and when its nearest competitor, Entertainment Tonight, completes its 35th season. (If ET does not complete a 35th season, Wheel of Fortune would pass in 2017 if it continues to air.)[citation needed]



Chicago origins

The origins of Soul Train can be traced to 1965, when WCIU-TV, an upstart UHF station in Chicago, began airing two youth-oriented dance programs: Kiddie-a-Go-Go and Red Hot and Blues. These two programs—specifically the latter, which featured a predominantly African American group of in-studio dancers—would set the stage for what was to come to the station several years later. Don Cornelius, a news reader and backup disc jockey at Chicago radio station WVON, was hired by WCIU in 1967 as a news and sports reporter. Cornelius also was promoting and emceeing a touring series of concerts featuring local talent (sometimes called "record hops") at Chicago-area high schools, calling his travelling caravan of shows "The Soul Train". WCIU-TV took notice of Cornelius's outside work and in 1970, allowed him the opportunity to bring his road show to television.

After securing a sponsorship deal with the Chicago-based retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co., Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV on August 17, 1970, as a live show airing weekday afternoons. The first episode of the program featured Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites, and the Emotions as guests. Cornelius was assisted by Clinton Ghent, a local professional dancer who appeared on early episodes before moving behind the scenes as a producer and secondary host.[1]

Move to syndication

Its immediate success attracted the attention of another locally based firm—the Johnson Products Company (manufacturers of the Afro Sheen line of hair-care products)—and they later agreed to co-sponsor the program's expansion into national syndication. Cornelius and Soul Train's syndicator, Syndicast Services, targeted 24 markets outside of Chicago to carry the show, but stations in only seven other cities—Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco—purchased the program, which began airing on a weekly basis on October 2, 1971. By the end of the first season, Soul Train was on in the other seventeen markets.[2] In Chicago, the syndicated version was picked up by CBS-owned WBBM-TV; the program moved to WGN-TV later in the decade and remained there for the balance of its run. When the program moved into syndication, its home base was also shifted to Los Angeles, where it remained for the duration of its run. Syndicast Services handled the syndication until 1985, when Chicago-based Tribune Entertainment took over those responsibilities.

Though Don Cornelius moved his operations west, Soul Train continued in Chicago as a local program. Cornelius hosted the local Chicago and Los Angeles-based national programs simultaneously, but soon focused his attention solely on the national edition. He continued to oversee production in Chicago, where Clinton Ghent hosted episodes on WCIU-TV until 1976, followed by three years of once-weekly reruns.[3]

Later years

Don Cornelius ended his run as host at the end of the show's 22nd season in 1993, though he remained the show's main creative force from behind the scenes. The following fall, Soul Train began using various guest hosts weekly until comedian Mystro Clark began a two-year stint as permanent host in 1997. Clark was replaced by actor Shemar Moore in 1999. In 2003, Moore was succeeded by actor Dorian Gregory, who hosted through 2006.

Production of first-run episodes was suspended at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, the show's thirty-fifth, though several episodes were apparently produced for a thirty-sixth season that never aired. Instead, for two seasons starting in 2006-07, the program aired archived episodes (all from between 1974 and 1987) under the title The Best of Soul Train.[4] This was because in recent years, Nielsen ratings dropped to below 1.0; however, the classic episodes seemed to revive interest in the series and received a mostly positive response. In the process, some of the stations that used to air Soul Train on Saturday afternoons started burying it to middle-of-the-night time slots.[5] The future of Soul Train was uncertain with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment's syndication division on December 18, 2007, which left Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program.[6] Cornelius soon secured a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media.

In May 2008, the rights to the Soul Train library were purchased by MadVision Entertainment, whose principal partners come from the entertainment and publishing fields. The price and terms of the deal were not disclosed.[7] However, by the start of the 2008-09 television season, the Tribune-owned stations (including national carrier WGN America) that had been the linchpin of the show's syndication efforts dropped the program, and many others followed suit. Soul Train's website acknowledged that the program had ceased distribution on September 22, 2008.


When Don Cornelius Productions still owned the program, clips of the show's performances and interviews were kept away from online video sites such as YouTube due to copyright infringement claims. Cornelius also frowned upon unauthorized distribution of Soul Train episodes through the sale of third-party VHS or DVD compilations.

Following the purchase of the program's library by MadVision Entertainment, the Soul Train archives were exposed to new forms of distribution. In April 2009, MadVision launched a Soul Train channel on YouTube. Three months later, the company entered into a licensing agreement with Time–Life to distribute Soul Train DVD sets.[8][9] MadVision then came to terms with Viacom-owned Black Entertainment Television to relaunch the Soul Train Music Awards for BET's new spin-off channel, Centric, in November 2009, a move that may be one step into reviving the program. Centric, which launched on September 28, 2009, is currently broadcasting archived episodes of the program. Archived episodes of the series can now be seen on Bounce TV, an Atlanta-based television network that launched on September 26, 2011.


During the heyday of Soul Train in the 1970s and 1980s, the program was widely influential among younger African Americans, many of whom turned to it not only to hear the latest songs by well-known African-American artists, but also for clues about the latest fashions and dance trends. Moreover, for many white Americans in that era who were not living in areas that were racially diverse, Soul Train provided a unique window into African-American culture. Some commentators have called Soul Train a "black American Bandstand", another long-running program with which Soul Train shares some similarities. Cornelius, however, tended to bristle at the Bandstand comparison.[10]

Dick Clark, host and producer of American Bandstand, attempted to steal Soul Train's market share with a similarly themed program called Soul Unlimited, whose brief run on ABC in 1973 was controversial for its pronounced racial overtures. Clark ended Soul Unlimited after a handful of airings and agreed to work with Cornelius on a series of network specials featuring African-American artists.[11][12]

Cornelius was relatively conservative in his musical tastes and was admittedly not a fan of the emerging hip hop genre. Even though he would feature rap artists on Soul Train frequently during the 1980s, he publicly would admit (to the artists' faces such as Kurtis Blow for example) that the genre was one that he did not understand; as rap continued to move further toward hardcore hip hop, Cornelius would admit to be frightened by the antics of groups such as Public Enemy. Rosie Perez testified in a 2010 VH1 produced Soul Train documentary (Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America) that Cornelius also disliked seeing the Soul Train dancers perform sexually suggestive "East Coast" dance moves. Cornelius admittedly only had rap artists on the show because the genre was becoming popular among his African-American audience, though the decision alienated middle-aged, more affluent African-Americans like himself. This disconnect eventually led to Cornelius stepping down as host in the early 1990s and the show losing its influence.[13]

Program elements

Within the structure of the program, there were two enduring elements. The first was the "Soul Train Scramble Board", where two dancers are given sixty seconds to unscramble a set of letters which form the name of that show's performer or a notable person in African-American history. In describing the person's renown, the host concluded their description with the phrase "...whose name you should know". There was also the popular "Soul Train Line", in which all the dancers form two lines with a space in the middle for dancers to strut down and dance in consecutively. Originally, this consisted of a couple - with men on one side and women on the other.

In later years, men and women had their own individual line-ups. Sometimes, new dance styles or moves were featured or introduced by particular dancers. In addition, there was an in-studio group of dancers who danced along to the music as it was being performed. Rosie Perez, Carmen Electra, Nick Cannon, MC Hammer, Jermaine Stewart, Fred "Rerun" Berry, Laurieann Gibson, Pebbles, and NFL legend Walter Payton were among those who got noticed dancing on the program over the years. Two former dancers, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel, enjoyed years of success as members of the R&B group Shalamar after they were chosen by Soul Train talent booker/record promoter Dick Griffey and Cornelius to replace the group's original session singers in 1978. [14][15] Watley would later enjoy success as a solo artist after leaving Shalamar.

Each guest usually performed twice on each program; after their first number, they were joined by the program host on-stage for a brief interview. The show was also known for two popular catchphrases, referring to itself as the "hippest trip in America" at the beginning of the show and closing the program with "...and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace... and SOUL!"


In 1987, Soul Train launched the Soul Train Music Awards, which honors the top performances in R&B, hip-hop, and gospel music (and, in its earlier years, jazz music) from the previous year. Soul Train later created two additional annual specials: The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, first airing in 1995, celebrated top achievements by female performers; and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest, which premiered in 1998, featured holiday music performed by a variety of R&B and gospel artists.

The Lady of Soul Awards and Christmas Starfest programs last aired in 2006. In April 2008, Don Cornelius announced that year's Soul Train Music Awards ceremony had been canceled. Cornelius cited the three-month-long strike by the Writers Guild of America as one of the reasons, though a main factor may have been the uncertainty surrounding Soul Train's future. Cornelius also announced that a motion picture based on the program was in development.[16] However, new owner MadVision appears to be following their own agenda for the program, which included reviving the Soul Train Music Awards in 2009.[8][17]

Theme music

Soul Train used various original and current music for theme songs during its run, including:

  • 1971-1973: "Hot Potatoes" by King Curtis and later redone by the Rimshots
  • 1973-1975: "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", composed by Gamble and Huff and recorded by Philadelphia soul studio group MFSB with vocals by the Three Degrees. Released as a single, this song became a pop and R&B radio hit in 1974 and the show's best-known theme.
  • 1975-1976: "Soul Train '75" by the Soul Train Gang, which was later released as a single for the newly formed Soul Train Records
  • 1976-1978: "Soul Train '76 (Get on Board)", also by the Soul Train Gang
  • 1978-1980: "Soul Train Theme '79", produced by the Hollywood Disco Jazz Band with vocals by the Waters
  • 1980-1983: "Up on Soul Train", first by the Waters and later by the Whispers, whose version appears in their 1980 album Imagination.
  • 1983-1987: "Soul Train's a Comin'" by R&B artist O'Bryan[18]
  • 1987-1989: "TSOP '87", a remake of the original "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", composed and produced by George Duke
  • 1989-1993: "TSOP '89", a remixed version of "TSOP '87", also by George Duke
  • 1993-1999: "Soul Train '93" (Know You Like to Dance)" by the hip-hop group Naughty by Nature with a saxophone solo by Everette Harp
  • 1999-2006: "TSOP 2000", with rap vocals by hip hop artist Samson and music by Dr. Freeze, and again featuring an Everette Harp saxophone solo. However, a portion of "Know You Like to Dance" was still used in the show's second-half opening segment during this period.

References in popular culture


  • In the film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the lead character, Jack Spade, and his ex-girlfriend have a flashback about their experience of dancing on Soul Train. They dance down the Soul Train line (to the song "Dancing Machine" by The Jackson 5) but are so terrible they knock out all the other participants.
  • In Spike Lee's film Crooklyn (1994), the kids are watching and dancing to an episode of Soul Train on TV.
  • In the film Dead Presidents (1995), Chris Tucker's character overdoses on heroin while watching an episode of Soul Train on TV.
  • Don Cornelius made a cameo appearance in the 1998 comedy Mafia!. He appears during the funeral of Vincenzo Cortino, portrayed by Lloyd Bridges.
  • A sequence in the movie Charlie's Angels featured actress Cameron Diaz dancing on Soul Train.


  • Johnnie Taylor's No. 1 hit "Disco Lady", from 1976, contains the line "Girl, you oughta be on TV... on Soul Train!"
  • In 1974, Junior Walker recorded a song called "Dancin' Like They Do on Soul Train".
  • Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance" includes the line, "You were looking good on Soul Train."
  • Archie Bell & the Drells' "I Could Dance All Night" includes the line, "See those kids on that Soul Train show."
  • Aaliyah's "Back and Forth from 1994 contains the line "I got jazz personality, G of Soul Train."
  • Eric B. & Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul", from 1987, includes the line, "Grab the mic like I'm on Soul Train."
  • Dennis Coffey was the first white lead act to appear on the show, performing "Scorpio" on January 8, 1972. [4]
  • Elton John was the second white lead act to appear on the show, performing "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Bennie and the Jets" on May 17, 1975.
  • David Bowie refers to Soul Train twice in "Young Americans":
    • "Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors/Blushing at all the Afro-Sheeners": A reference in "Young Americans" to one of the primary sponsors of Soul Train.
    • "Black's got respect, and white's got his "Soul Train": A self-deprecating remark in "Young Americans" about how a white musician such as him could get on Soul Train to do blue-eyed soul.
  • David Bowie performed "Golden Years" and "Fame" on the show on November 4, 1975.
  • Zapp & Roger's "In the Mix" includes the line, "Don Cornelius, Hey, Soul Train, I love to see your body talk."
  • Greg Phillinganes's "Lazy Nina" includes the chorus line "Back in the maze with Lazy Nina, walkin' the dog and watchin' Soul Train."


  • The sketch comedy show In Living Color parodied Soul Train in 1990 with a sketch called "Old Train," parodying Cornelius's (and the show's) age and increasing disconnect with modern black music. Keenen Ivory Wayans portrayed Don Cornelius as a very elderly and forgetful host of a show that featured dancing elderly people. Participants in the "dance line" included a nurse pushing an old person in a wheelchair, and a casket being carried by pallbearers. The "Old Train Scramble Board" had the contestants attempt to "unscramble" four letters (D, E, M, R) that had no meaning.
  • The improvisational comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? once featured a game in which one of the actors pretended he was the host of Soul Train, repeatedly morphing into a "goofy white guy" and back again.
  • In the "Arthur Plays the Blues" episode of the PBS Kids Arthur cartoon series, Arthur's piano teacher, Dr. Fugue, says to Arthur after giving Arthur a second chance at piano lessons, "I have a few minutes before Soul Train."
  • Soul Train was referenced in an episode of The Golden Girls. Blanche asserts that she believes that all men are created equal, but Rose disagrees and suggests that those who do not believe her should "watch a white person dance down the line on Soul Train."
  • On the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it is revealed that Philip proposed to Vivian on an episode of Soul Train in the 1970s. They are asked to return on a special anniversary show. Don Cornelius played himself in the episode.
  • As Regina was rehearsing a dance routine on an episode of The Steve Harvey Show, she told Steve that when she was younger, she told herself that she could "be that Asian girl" who danced regularly on Soul Train. (The Asian dancer, Cheryl Song, appeared in several music videos throughout the years and was one of the most popular dancers on the show.)
  • On an episode of Sanford and Son, Aunt Esther tells the family that she will be on television, to which Fred Sanford replies, "SOUL TRAIN!"
  • On an episode of The Cosby Show, Claire explains to the family that she will appear on television to which Cliff exclaimed "Soul Train!"
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch with Eddie Murphy playing Mr. Robinson (a spoof of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) had a scramble board similar to that on Soul Train. The word "SCUMI" was actually a scramble of the word "MUSIC".
  • On the first-season episode of Saved by the Bell, Zack Morris pulls a prank on A.C. Slater by putting ants inside the back of his shirt. Slater gets up and moves around to get them off. The teacher replies, "Hey, this is study hall not Soul Train!
  • On the fourth season of Moesha, Security Guard (Kelvin Brown) asked Niecy, "Is Soul Train still on?" in the season premiere, "Moesha Meets Brandy", which aired in October 1998.
  • An episode in the 36th season of Saturday Night Live parodied The Best of Soul Train by advertising a collection titled The Worst of Soul Train, featuring various bizarre or spoof performances.
  • In The Simpsons fifth-season episode "Rosebud", one of the TV shows that Mr. Burns interrupts is a parody of Soul Train entitled The Soul Mass Transit System.
  • On the Truth commercial, actor Wesley Jonathan portrayed Shemar Moore about ammonia on a Soul Train scramble board that is on a PSA.
  • A MAD sketch parodied Soul Train with the 1982 film Tron.


  • IGT acquired the rights to create a slot machine based on the series.
  • Hibernian F.C.'s defender Sol Bamba is affectionately known by fans as "Sol Train".

See also


  1. ^ Shamontiel L. Vaughn (2009-01-26). "Soul Train reunion to honor show host, Ghent". Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Jake Austen (2008-10-02). "Soul Train Local: The show that put Aficrican-American music on TVs across America got its start in Chicago—and even after it moved to L.A., Chicago kept its own version running daily for nearly a decade". Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  4. ^ Soul Train - Don Cornelius Productions, Inc
  5. ^ The future of "Soul Train"
  6. ^ ffd([1])
  7. ^ Stelter, Brian (2008-06-17). "After 38 Years, ‘Soul Train' Gets New Owner". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ In an episode featuring Rick James, featured in the Best of Soul Train reruns, James begins cavorting with audience members only to have Cornelius stop him and tell him "This ain't Bandstand! The Soul Train line is a dance move from the show Soul Train!"
  11. ^ Don Cornelius biography from
  12. ^ Jake Austen (2005). "TV-a-go-go: rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol". Chicago Review Press, Inc.. Retrieved July 22, 2011. 
  13. ^ See the 2010 documentary "Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America."
  14. ^ [3] Black, Stu (Dec. 13, 1987) "She Took The Soul Train To Stardom
  15. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (June 18, 1987) "Jody Watley's New Love, Tired of Her Role In Shalamar, A Soul Diva Breaks Away For Solo Success", p. 23
  16. ^ Dean Goodman (2008-04-18). ""Soul Train" movie rolling into theaters". Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  17. ^ A statement on the official Soul Train web site states "We are working diligently on a number of new projects to bring you more of the iconic Soul Train experience in 2009."
  18. ^ O'Bryan Soul Train's A Comin' (Remix) - 1983 - Song - MP3 Stream on IMEEM Music

External links

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