The Internet is still buzzing about the shocking death of Don Cornelius who was found dead in his California home Wednesday from what authorities are calling an apparent suicide caused by a self-inflected gunshot wound. Cornelius was 75 years old.
To hear about the passing of a noted figure can be a shock, but in some ways it seems almost fitting that the world learned of the death of Cornelius on the first day of Black History Month. The creator and long-time host of “Soul Train” was an innovator and a visionary who made history when he decided to broadcast the dance moves of black folks and showcase some of the best talent the music industry had to offer on television. The legendary show will go down on record as the longest-running first-run nationally syndicated show in television history, according to the LA Times.
Like so many other people who watched “Soul Train” I was glued to the television every Saturday when I was younger watching the week’s performing act, trying to figure out the scramble board name, and of course copying the best dance moves coming down the Soul Train Line. Thanks to Cornelius these are moments in my life I can think back on and smile about. But I do have one more Cornelius moment that not everyone can say they’ve experienced.
Back in 2008 I wrote an article for Jet Magazine titled “Soul Train Music Awards Cancelled This Year.” My editor told me to get a quote from Cornelius for the piece. Being in robotic mode, I didn’t think much of the order at first. Cornelius wasn’t in his office when I called, so I left a message along with my number. I figured if anything his receptionist would call back with the quote I needed. Because of deadline I was hard at work pushing out the other stories I had to get done, completely forgetting about the “Soul Train” article until my phone rang. When I answered it the deep voice on the other end said, “Hello, is this Marti Parham?” When I answered yes he went on to say, “This is Doooonnnn Cornelius returning your call.”
My mind went blank for a second, and then I busted out laughing. I couldn’t help it; I was having a giddy moment. “The” Don Cornelius, who I grew up watching on TV, had just said my name in that smooth baritone voice of his. Plus the way he had announced himself was just funny to me. Once I regained my composure I was all business. He went on to talk about how the awards show was being “postponed” because of the much talked about writers strike happening back then. He also mentioned that a “Soul Train” movie had just been greenlit by Warner Brothers Pictures, a project he was set to produce.
If I would have been thinking at the time I would have told him how much I loved the show when I was growing up and how I never missed a single week of watching it. But, I didn’t. I kept it professional and thanked him for speaking to me before hanging up the phone. Some might say I missed out on the opportunity to have had a deep and meaningful conversation with an iconic figure in modern day history. But I choose not to see things in the negative.
I spoke with Don Cornelius. He said my name. We had our moment. I’m cool with that.
Rest in peace Don Cornelius, and thank you for sharing your vision with the world.