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Kansas City Remembers Don Cornelius

KCUR's Susan Wilson in high school, sporting her Soul Train-inspired hairdo.
Susan B. Wilson
KCUR's Susan Wilson in high school, sporting her Soul Train-inspired hairdo.

Last week, Don Cornelius, creator of the dance show “Soul Train,” died at the age of 75.  Soul Train first aired in 1970 and was one of the longest running syndicated shows in television history when it ended in 2006.

With his deep baritone voice and lush Afro, Cornelius featured black artists who otherwise would not be seen on network TV shows at that time.  For the white community, Soul Train provided a window into black culture, music and dance.  In fact, some say that Soul Train—and the music it promoted—bridged the divide between black and white communities at that time.

When Soul Train came on, African American youth across the country were glued to the TV.  In Pittsburgh, I watched the very first show with Gladys Knight and the Pips belting out “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”  I remember feeling flush with feelings of excitement and pride.

Every week, I would tune in to check out my favorite R&B artists and catch up on the hottest dances and trendiest fashions.  These included wide, wide legged bell bottoms, huge hoop earrings, platform shoes, and let’s not forget,  fringed leather vests, miniskirts and multicolored jump suits.

Why, I was very happy to sport my own Don Cornelius-sized Afro.

Yes, Soul Train was the “can’t miss show” of its time for us.  Not even a Saturday sorority girl road trip to Penn State University could stop us from watching. We timed our travels so we could arrive at the Delta Sigma Theta suite just in time to crowd around the television set to watch Soul Train.

So, I asked fellow Kansas Citians, what were some of their favorite memories?

This story was produced for KC Currents.  To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents Podcast.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Susan admits that her “first love” was radio, being an avid listener since childhood. However, she spent much of her career in mental health, healthcare administration, and sports psychology (Susan holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Bloch School of Business at UMKC.) In the meantime, Wilson satisfied her journalistic cravings by doing public speaking, providing “expert” interviews for local television, and being a guest commentator/contributor to KPRS’s morning drive time show and the teen talk show “Generation Rap.”
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