Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I Played Musical Chairs With Don Cornelius (As Told By "thE oLd SouL")
It was March 2006. Just three months short of graduating from high school. Upon the recommendation of a girl I was "sort of" seeing for a brief moment at that time, Key and I became seat fillers for the 2006 Soul Train Music Awards in Pasadena. This was the first major awards show that I had ever "seat filled" for. For those who don't know what a seat filler is, basically their job is "fill the seat" of a star that was either up on stage accepting an award or performing, or taking up that unclaimed seat so it looks like a packed house on television.
So here was Key and I, suited and booted, among all these stars in their respected fields of entertainment in the first two rows of the civic center. It was 10 minutes to showtime, and The Black Eyed Peas were setting up on stage to open up the show. As I was looking around taking in the sights and sounds, all of a sudden, I heard a roar of cheers and applause. Everyone was standing up and I was sitting, so I couldn't see what the commotion was about. This was when the two empty seats to my left was filled. The one right next to me was filled by none other than this woman here...
I remember looking back at Key with a "Homie are you seeing this shit" type look on my face. So while I was trying to keep it "Cooler than a polar bear's toe nails," I thought of a way I break the ice and strike up a convo with Tyra. She was alumni from Immaculate Heart, a sister school of my high school Loyola. So I thought I would start there. Just when I was building up the courage to even utter a syllable, here comes the man himself. Don walks up to my seat and I immediately out of respect, briefly introduce myself and try to make very, very small talk. After the intros, he says to me in his signature deep, yet raspy voice, "Nice to meet you too young man, but I'ma have to move you a couple seats back." I was then escorted to the next 6 rows back and Don took my seat right next to Tyra. I had just got my seat jacked by the o.g, scramble board master of cool himself, Don Cornelius, lol!
Of course, the 17 year old version of me, while taking "the walk of shame" to that seat six rows back heard this repeatedly in my head, but in retrospect, looking back at it now, Don was just doing what made him successful in the first place, and that was seizing the moment. Don was all about his business and there was no doubt he wanted to build a little with Tyra given that this was time her "empire" (Top Model and her daytime show) was really starting to skyrocket. You're going to hear this a lot in the next coming weeks as Don's life and work is remembered, but I'll say it here because it needs to be said over and over. Don Cornelius changed not just music, but popular culture. PERIOD!
Before MTV, before BET, before the internet, their was one place that not just Black America, but all of America went to as the source for latest music, dances, and fashion. And that place was every Saturday on Soul Train. Everyone that has had anything to do with the last 30 plus years of music had done a song or two there... EVERYONE. And I'm not just talking about the Soul legends of the day such as EWF, Marvin, Stevie, and Jackson 5, I also talking about Pop legends Elton John, David Bowie and Prince. Although make no mistake, Soul Train was THE launching pad for damn near every Soul, Funk, R&B, and Hip-Hop act from 1971 to 2006, the year the final train pulled into the station.
Don came from where my grandmother came from, the southside of Chicago, and turn what was first a local cable access program, to cultural staple and in the process, gave life so many artists we know and love to this day. He was one of the authors of the blueprint for men of color to be powerful, influential musical tastemakers and to build enterprises in entertainment. Remember, those now groundbreaking Johnson Hair Product commericals that aired during Soul Train that Don's company produced, were some of the first spots in TV history to market directly towards Black America.
Furthermore, you wanna question Don's legacy? Tell me this. When have you been a wedding, family reunion, or just any kind of party for that matter and NOT done a Soul Train line? That alone, is testament to the lasting legacy Don's work will have for the decades to come.
He was a master of cool, smooth as Magic Johnson down the lane, and a positive force of change. This is what Don Cornelius should be remembered for; not the way his life came to an unexpected, absolute tragic conclusion. This is why I told that story above, and this is how I will forever remember Mr. Cornelius. Soul Claps & Salutes sir and thank you so much.
And as always... Love, Peace, and Souuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuullll!!!