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Soul Train is a syndicated, music-related television program. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by rhythm and blues, soul, and hip hop artists, although jazz musicians and gospel singers have also appeared.

The show was known for its animated opening titles and sequences between musical performances featuring the popular cartoon train created by various cartoon studios. As a nod to Soul Train's longevity, the show's opening sequence (during later seasons) also contained a claim that it was 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.

The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer, and aired from 1971 to 2006, with reruns continuing until 2008. Despite this, in years on air, Soul Train will continue to hold the honor of the longest, continuously-running first-run syndicated program until at least 2016, if and when its nearest competitor, Entertainment Tonight, completes its 35th season. (If ET does not complete a 35th season, Wheel of Fortune would pass in 2017 if it continues to air.)


Chicago origins

The origins of Soul Train can be traced to 1965, when WCIU-TVmarker, an upstart UHF station in Chicagomarker, began airing two youth-oriented dance programs: Kiddie-a-Go-Go and Red Hot and Blues. These two programs—specifically the latter, which featured a predominantly African American group of in-studio dancers—would set the stage for what was to come to the station several years later.

Don Cornelius, a news reader and backup disc jockey at Chicago radio station WVONmarker, was hired by WCIU in 1967 as a news and sports reporter. Cornelius also was emceeing a touring series of concerts featuring local talent (sometimes called "record hops") at Chicago-area high schools, calling his travelling caravan of shows "The Soul Train". WCIU-TV took notice of Cornelius's outside work, and in 1970 allowed him the opportunity to bring his road show to television.

After securing a sponsorship deal with the Chicago-based retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co., Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV on August 17, 1970 as a live show airing weekday afternoons. The first episode of the program featured Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites, and the Emotions as guests.

Move to syndication

Its immediate success attracted the attention of another locally-based firm—the Johnson Products Company (manufacturers of the Afro Sheen line of hair-care products) -- and they later agreed to co-sponsor the program's expansion into national syndication. Cornelius and Soul Train's syndicator, Syndicast Services, targeted 24 markets outside of Chicago to carry the show, but stations in only seven cities -- Atlantamarker, Clevelandmarker, Detroitmarker, Houstonmarker, Los Angelesmarker, Philadelphiamarker and San Franciscomarker -- purchased the program, which began airing on a weekly basis on October 2, 1971. By the end of the first season, Soul Train was on in the other seventeen markets.

When the program moved into syndication, its home base was also shifted to Los Angeles, where it remained for the duration of its run. Syndication of the program was initially handled by Syndicast Services until 1985, when Chicago-based Tribune Entertainment took over those responsibilities. Though Don Cornelius moved his operations west, Soul Train continued in Chicago. Cornelius hosted the local Chicago and Los Angeles-based national programs simultaneously, but soon focused his attention solely on the national edition. He continued to oversee production in Chicago, where WCIU-TV aired episodes until 1976, followed by three years of once-weekly reruns.

Later years

Don Cornelius ended his run as host in 1993, and guest hosts were used from that time until 1997, when comedian Mystro Clark began a two-year stint as host. Clark was replaced by actor Shemar Moore in 1999. In 2003, Moore was succeeded by actor Dorian Gregory, who hosted through 2006.

Production of first-run episodes was suspended at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, the show's thirty-fifth. For two seasons starting in 2006-07, the program aired archived episodes (all from between 1974 and 1987) under the title, "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, which left Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program. Cornelius soon secured a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media.

In May 2008, the rights to the Soul Train library were purchased by MadVision Entertainment, whose principal partners come from the entertainment and publishing fields. The price and terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, by the start of the 2008-09 television season, the Tribune-owned stations (including national carrier WGN America) that had been the linchpin of the show's syndication efforts dropped the program, and many others followed suit. Soul Train's website acknowledged that the program had ceased distribution on September 22, 2008.


When Don Cornelius Productions still owned the program, clips of the show's performances and interviews were kept away from online video sites such as YouTube, due to copyright infringement claims. Cornelius also frowned upon unauthorized distribution of Soul Train episodes through the sale of third-party VHS or DVD compilations.

Following the purchase of the program's library by MadVision Entertainment, the Soul Train archives were exposed to new forms of distribution. In April 2009, MadVision launched a Soul Train channel on YouTube. Three months later, the company entered into an licensing agreement with Time–Life to distribute Soul Train DVD sets. MadVision then came to terms with Viacom-owned Black Entertainment Television to relaunch the Soul Train Music Awards for BET's new spin-off channel, Centric, in November 2009, a move which may be one step into reviving the program. Centric, which launched on September 28, 2009 (replacing BET J), is currently broadcasting archived episodes of the program.


During the heyday of Soul Train in the 1970s and 1980s, the program was widely influential among younger African Americans, many of whom turned to it not only to hear the latest songs by well-known black artists but also for clues about the latest fashions and dance trends. Moreover, for many white Americans in that era who were not living in areas that were racially diverse, Soul Train provided a unique window into black culture. Some commentators have called Soul Train a "black American Bandstand", another long-running program with which Soul Train shares some similarities. Cornelius, however, tended to bristle at the Bandstand comparison.

Program elements

Within the structure of the program, there were two enduring elements. The first was the "Soul Train Scramble Board", where two dancers are given sixty seconds to unscramble a set of letters which form the name of that show's performer or a notable person in African American history. In describing the person's renown, the host concluded their description with the phrase "...whose name you should know".

Near the program's conclusion, there was also the popular "Soul Train Line", in which all the dancers form two lines with a space in the middle for individual dancers to strut down and dance in consecutively. Sometimes, new dance styles or moves are featured or introduced by particular dancers.

In addition, there was an in-studio group of dancers who danced along to the music as it was being performed. Rosie Perez, Carmen Electra, Nick Cannon, MC Hammer, Jermaine Stewart, Fred "Rerun" Berry, Pebbles, and NFL legend Walter Payton were among those who got noticed dancing on the program over the years. Two former dancers, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel, enjoyed years of success as members of the R&B group Shalamar after they (along with singer Howard Hewett) were tabbed by Soul Train talent booker/record promoter Dick Griffey to replace the group's original session singers in 1977.

Performers who appeared on Soul Train generally lip-synched their songs to its recorded version, though several chose to sing their songs live. 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.

The show was also known for two popular catchphrases: 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!"


In 1987, Soul Train launched the Soul Train Music Awards, which honors the top performances in R&B, hip-hop, and gospel music (and, in its earlier years, jazz music) from the previous year. Soul Train later created two additional annual specials: The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, first airing in 1995, celebrated top achievements by female performers; and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest, which premiered in 1998, featured holiday music performed by a variety of R&B and gospel artists. The Lady of Soul Awards and Christmas Starfest programs last aired in 2006.

The Soul Train Music Awards were most recently held on March 10, 2007. In April 2008, Don Cornelius announced that year's ceremony had been canceled. Cornelius cited the three-month-long strike by the Writers Guild of America as one of the reasons, though a main factor may have been the uncertainty surrounding Soul Train's future. Cornelius also announced that a motion picture based on the program was in development. However, new owner MadVision appears to be following their own agenda for the program.

Theme music

Soul Train used various original and current music for theme songs during its run, including:

  • 1980-1983: "Up on Soul Train," first by the Waters and later by the Whispers, whose version appears in their 1980 album Imagination.

  • 1987-1989: "TSOP '87," a remake of the original "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", composed and produced by George Duke.

  • 1989-1993: "TSOP '89," a remixed version of "TSOP '87", also by George Duke.

  • 1999-2006: "TSOP 2000," with rap vocals by hip hop artist Samson and music by Dr. Freeze, and again featuring an Everett Harp saxophone solo. However, a portion of "Know You Like to Dance" was still used in the show's second-half opening segment during this period.

References in popular culture

  • The sketch comedy show, In Living Color parodied Soul Train in 1990 with a sketch called Old Train. Keenen Ivory Wayans portrayed Don Cornelius as a very elderly and forgetful host of a show that featured dancing elderly people. Participants in the "dance line" included a nurse pushing an old person in a wheelchair, and a casket being carried by pallbearers. Playing on elderly senility, the "Soul Train Scramble Board" had the contestants unscramble the words "Mr. DE".
  • The improvisational comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? once featured a game in which one of the actors pretended he was the host of Soul Train, repeatedly morphing into a "goofy white guy" and back again.
  • The video game Streets of SimCity has a parody called Soul Transit featured briefly in the intro.
  • The Simpsons featured a parody of the show entitled Soul Mass Transit System.
  • A sequence in the movie Charlie's Angels featured actress Cameron Diaz dancing on Soul Train.
  • Don Cornelius played himself in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where the main characters appear on Soul Train. Cornelius also made a cameo appearance in the 1998 comedy Jane Austen's Mafia! He appears during the funeral of Vincenzo Cortino, portrayed by Lloyd Bridges.
  • IGTmarker acquired the rights from Don Cornelius Productions to created a slot machine based on the show.
  • Johnnie Taylor's No. 1 hit "Disco Lady", from 1976, contains the line "Girl, you oughta be on TV... on Soul Train!" (Interestingly, whenever "Disco Lady" was played on rival show American Bandstand, the "Soul Train" verse was conspicuously left out of the song.)
  • In 1974, Junior Walker recorded a song called "Dancin' Like They Do on Soul Train."
  • Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance", includes the line, "You were looking good on Soul Train."
  • Archie Bell & the Drells' "I Could Dance All Night", includes the line, "See those kids on that Soul Train show."
  • Eric B. & Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul", from 1987, includes the line, "Grab the mic like I'm on Soul Train."
  • In the "Arthur Plays the Blues" episode of the PBS Kids Arthur cartoon series, Arthur's piano teacher Dr. Fugue says to Arthur after giving Arthur a second chance at piano lessons "I have a few minutes before Soul Train".
  • Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory did an animated parody of Soul Train called Groove Train in the episode, "Sister's Got A Brand New Bag."
  • The Proud Family featured a similar program entitled Hip-Hop Helicopter.
  • In a Summer 2003 Old Navy commercial, a parody of this was used as Cargo Train, and the song "Boogie Fever" by The Sylvers was spoofed as Cargo Fever.
  • Zapp & Roger's "In the Mix", includes the line, "Don Cornelius, Hey, Soul Train, I love to see your body talk."
  • Soul Train was referenced in an episode of The Golden Girls. Blanche asserts that she believes that all men are created equal, but Rose disagrees and suggests that those who don't believe her should "watch a white person dance down the line on Soul Train".
  • In the film I'm Gonna Get You Sucka, the lead character Jack Spade and his ex-girlfriend have a flashback about their experience of dancing on Soul Train. They dance down the Soul Train line (to the song "Dancing Machine" by The Jackson Five) but are so terrible they knock out all the other participants.
  • In Spike Lee's film Crooklyn (1994), the kids are watching and dancing to an episode of Soul Train on TV.
  • In the film Dead Presidents (1995), Chris Tucker's character overdoses on heroin while watching an episode of Soul Train on TV.
  • On the Television show The Fresh Prince it is revealed that Philip proposed to Vivian on a episode of Soul Train in the 70s. They are ask to return on a special anniversary show.
  • Hibernian FC's defender Sol Bamba is affectionately known by fans as "Sol Train".
  • As Regina was rehearsing a dance routine on an episode of The Steve Harvey Show, she told Steve that when she was younger, she told herself that she could "be that Asian girl" who danced regularly on "Soul Train." (The dancer, Cheryl Sung, who briefly appeared in Michael Jackson's Beat It, and Rick James's Super Freak, was one of the most popular dancers on the show.)

See also


  2. Soul Train - Don Cornelius Productions, Inc
  3. ffd([1])
  6. In an episode featuring Rick James, featured in the Best of Soul Train reruns, James begins cavorting with audience members only to have Cornelius stop him and tell him "This ain't Bandstand!the soul train line is a dance move from the show soul train"
  7. A statement on the official Soul Train web site states "We are working diligently on a number of new projects to bring you more of the iconic Soul Train experience in 2009."
  8. The Whispers Up On Soul Train - Song - MP3 Stream on IMEEM Music
  9. O'Bryan Soul Train's A Comin' (Remix) - 1983 - Song - MP3 Stream on IMEEM Music

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