Many years ago, a young Frank the Tank spent his Saturday mornings with a fairly consistent TV-viewing routine: The Smurfs, Looney Tunes, and capping it all off with Soul Train. As you wrap your mind around the image of a half-Polish/half-Chinese toddler sitting around watching Soul Train in rapture (of course, host Don Cornelius was the definition of encouraging diversity, as evidenced by inviting these guys as guests at one point), please note that I was a massive hip-hop fan long before it was considered to be mainstream and since I lived in a household without cable (meaning no MTV or BET), Soul Train was pretty much the only television outlet available for me to get my dose of favorite music. Not only that, the Chicago broadcasts of Soul Train on WGN included a heavy rotation of the greatest commercials of all-time – you can only imagine the horror on my Taiwanese-born mother’s face when I requested that we take a detour to the Museum of Science and Industry so that we could stop by Moo & Oink. So, I got a little emotional when I found out that the old Soul Train reruns were being taken off the air for good (there haven’t been any new episodes since 2006). Don Cornelius helped bring R&B and hip-hop to the masses in an era where those genres were considered to “niche” markets. Now, even the NFL has moved away from using aging white rock stars to headline the Super Bowl halftime show… what? (This blog post pretty much sums up my feelings about Bruce Springsteen – he’s not bad and there are certain songs such as “Glory Days” that are among my favorites, but I’ve just never felt that he was as great of a songwriter and rock star as he’s made out to be by much of the the general public.) OK, so there still needs to be some work done. However, when you look at the top Billboard songs over the past decade, you’ll see the charts dominated by either hip-hop or at least hip-hop influenced acts. All of those artists should be grateful to the work of Don Cornelius and Soul Train for paving the way when that music wasn’t quite as accepted.
(Ed. note: You may have noticed that I’ve referenced Color Me Badd twice in the last week, which is unusual since no person on Earth has acknowledged their existence for the past 18 years. Let me just tell you that after my research of the “band” on YouTube, I felt the same elation of uncovering some life-altering treasure as the archaeologist from Jurassic Park that found the prehistoric mosquito encased in amber. Of course, there’s some blissful ignorance of the collateral damage that will surely come from these discoveries, which means I’ll likely become a pregame snack for a velociraptor within the next couple of weeks.)
(Image from Museum of Broadcast Communications)