Contrary to what many think from its Hollywood Image. Soul Train actually premiered in Chicago on August 17, 1970 as a local daily program.The ability to have a Afro American based dance show. attracted the attention of the Johnson’s Product Company, a Black owned company and the manufacturers of the Afro Sheen line of hair-care products who agreed to sponsor the program’s expansion into syndication. Soul Train. when we think of that era in streetdance we think of bright clothing and extravagant hats , but this was the first time that an Afro American owned company , which produced a product for an exclusive market. had the opportunity to sponsor and advertise on a national ethnic based show, Many have asked why were there no hats worn on the early shows . Well here is the reason.
THE SOUL TRAIN LINE
The Cultural fashion and dance scene was already in partial bloom in Los Angeles with Dance Shows Like “The Real Don Steel show”, “Hulla Baloo” and the National syndicated show “American Bandstand”. But the roll of African American Dancers on these show were usually limited. and Afro American Couples were often separated or not allowed to dance next to each other. even with these restrictions some of the first streetdance legends were born with dancers like, Doozer Raye who sparked interest as he showed the world his rendition of the high kicking “Funky Chicken” on the Real Don Steels dance spotlight. A rivalry quickly developed between the new Show, Soul Train and the old established shows like American Bandstand, As dancers became popular on Soul Train they were often forbidden to be seen on the competitors shows. As the older shows and segregated clubs now realized the value of the African American dancers creativity. They began to now welcome the exposure of these now popular dancers.
Don Cornelius was the shows producer and host a tall, statuesque man with a barrelling deep voice and wearing a high Afro natural hair style. he exemplified the the success of the social movement of the 1960s. For the first time the nation was able to look into the night club party style scene of the Afro American community.and they saw the signature Soul Train Line , which was reminiscent of the old cake walk from the baseball negro leagues and second line dancing from the south.
In the early days. Soul Train drew a tremendous diverse viewing audience, with people tuning in nation wide to view the latest fashions or dance moves. here is where new styles were born The show not only spotlighted dancers but it was a place where both up and comming and established musical talent could be showcased and interviewed, however they were not simply interview about their musical careers , but sensitive social issues,
This cultural and social influence was never more evident than in the James Brown live Soul Train performance of 1972. in what may have been considered Soul Trains defining show. as guest performer James Brown explained his desire to improve the education at historically black colleges,and ended his show with the strong lyrics of his song “Say it Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud”as dancers Like Damita Jo Freeman joined him on stage. When that show ended with Don Cornelius raising his unity fist, the world now knew that this was not just a show about dance steps and clothes, but a show of purpose and substance. the african american educational process continued , as the soul train scramble board contest was the source for education on prominent african americans from all walks of life.
Don Cornilius retired as host in 1993, and the show used guest host from that time until 1997, comedian Mystro Clark hosted for two-years. Clark , and was then replaced by actor Shemor Moore in 1999. In 2003, There was another change when actor Dorian Gregory, took over and hosted through 2006. then the show aired in reruns until it finally ended its run as The Best of Soul Train for its final two seasons. But Locking and other creative dance style continued to be exposed.featuring many great dancers and musical artist.
The show is known for its tremendous sense of pride it bestowed on the African American community with its influence of new dances and fashions, In the earlier years it was the stripped sox and wild social gestures of dances like Locking , Roboting, and waacking, which highlighted the cultural street dance movement and inspired a nation wide streetdance explosion that exist worldwide today. The show featured animated opening titles and sequences between musical performances ,featuring the popular cartoon train created, written and produced by various unknown cartoon studios. It spurred several professional dance groups such as “The Lockers” exposed performances developed from the party and street styles of Locking and Roboting & from that,later styles like Popping was exposed through performances by the Electronic Boogaloo (aka Electric boogaloo Lockers,) and the continuation through the 80s as locking and popping continued to evolved carried on the show by The 1980s by Charles “Charley woo” Washington and a group from Compton’s “Kaptin Krunch & the funky Bunch”
The motto which exclaimed Soul Train’s longevity,was in the show’s opening sequence. it stated it is 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. Production of first-run episodes was suspended at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, this was the show’s 35th year of production. From 2006 to 2007, the program aired archived episodes and the show was called, “The Best of Soul Train”.
The future of Soul Train was uncertain with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment’s syndication division on December 18, 2007,The show soon after found a new production deal with Trifecta Entertainment Group Despite this, in years on air, Soul Train currently continue to hold the honor of the longest, continuously-running first-run syndicated program Within the structure of the program, there have been two enduring elements.which became Soul Train trade marks The first was the soul train line ,which we mentioned earlier the second was also culturally based. It was the “Soul Train Scramble Board”, where two dancers were given sixty seconds to unscramble a set of letters which form the name of a notable performer or a notable person in African American history. In describing the person’s renown, the host concludes with the phrase “whose name you should know”. thus challenging the kids to learn their African American heritage and history.Dancers were required to film two shows per day, four shows in a week end, Often changing clothes in bathrooms in between shows and fed boxed Golden Bird Chicken Lunches.
A camaraderie and brotherhood was built up that came across in the filming of the shows. . In addition,The earlier pioneers of the show created many opportunities for later dancers to go on in professional careers, along with many the in studio group of dancers (as we mention in this website) who either formed groups or went on to become streetdance or professional legends.
we saw the show move on to become more diverse and multi cultural.The 1980’s continued on with dancers continually developing careers and popularity from the shows exposure , such as The ‘Soul Brothers” crew, Louie “Ski Carr , Karim Evans, it bridged the interracial Gaps as dancers like Susan Song and others were now exposed to soul train popularity. And future celebrities were, like Rosie Perez, Carmen Electra, Nick Cannon, MC Hammer, Jermain Steward, Fred “Rerun” Berry, Pebbles, and NFL legend Walter Payton. these are just a few who became famous & were among those who got noticed dancing on the program over the years. But the show had many street & club known legends & dancers ,who made their mark on Soul Train..
Two former dancers, Jody Watley and Jeffery Daniel, enjoyed years of success as members of the singing group Shalamar, after they were tabbed by Soul Train talent booker/record promoter Dick Griffey to replace the group’s original session singers in 1977. The show introduced many groups and dancers, Tyrone Proctor, Gary Keyes, Little Jo Chisim, Lynn Picket, Pat Davis, Sharon Hill, Fredi Maxie, Lenny Jones, Thelma Davis ,Perry Brown and others formed groups like “Something” Special from the Original Soul Train Gang,
and Dances that still exist and being taught today Like “Waacking” were introduced on the show. Many also believe that Waacking was part of the Locking explosion,But it was not. although it was introduced during the same era. it evolved from the social parties of the Gay community. and was later confused as a part of locking from its exposure in movies such as “Breaking” The term Punking (which was a derogatory term used to discribe the gay people) was added to the dance as strait dancers mimicked the waacking style.
The soul train gang tour, with Gary Keyes, Don Campbell, Mr X,Tyrone Proctor & Scooby doo
Most Performers who appeared on Soul Train generally lip-sync their songs to its recorded version,But some of the most influential performers such as James Brown chose to perform his songs live.performing a complete live concert performance. The entire show was dedicated to him and his influences on not just the entertainment field but society in general .It must be noted that 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. But the thoughts and music of “The God Father of Soul” was much more important. In Later years Soul Train continued into the 80s & 90s, the doors were open to interracial couples and dancers of all ethic backgrounds , THESE DOORS WERE OPEN FROM A MOVEMENT OF DANCE & MUSIC that was exposed through this historical show.The show was known for two popular catch phrases: Referring to itself as the “hippest trip in America” at the beginning of the show; and for closing the program with, “…We wish you love, peace… and SOUL!” Much thanks to Soul Train and Don Cornilius without them the world may have never known the passion of a people James Brown.
“say it loud i’m black and i’m proud“this song sung live on soul train in 1972, This song not only was the cry for the social movement but became the theme for the street dance movement, in the clip you see Locking by various pioneers of streetdance, but not just locking , but Locking with a purpose and a causeJames Brown Soul Train Performance “Say It Loud”
Today there are numerous soul train pages & organizations existing on the internet , but this page was initially written and posted in 2001 when there were no international web presence for both locking and Soul Train