Soul Train: Hippest Trip in America   View more episodes

Aired at 05:30 PM on Sunday, Nov 28, 2010 (11/28/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:25@@ Narrator: On october 2, 1971, "soul train" made its national debut.
00:01:09Gone was the claustrophobic feel of the old local show.
00:01:13>> Tony: The chicago set felt a little gloomy to me.
00:01:19Los angeles was big, los angeles was -- was bright.
00:01:22It was like night and day.
00:01:25>> Narrator:, baby -- the big time.
00:01:28>> Announcer: The hippest trip in america -- 60 nonstop minutes across the tracks of your mind into the exciting world of soul.
00:01:41>> Narrator: Don had grand ambitions for the show.
00:01:44Unfortunately, selling those dreams into syndication was tougher than he anticipated.
00:01:49While the show initially premiered in just seven cities, don still stepped confidently into the national limelight for the very first time.
00:01:57>> Announcer: And now, here's your host, don cornelius!
00:02:01>> [ Cheers and applause ] >> hi there, and welcome aboard.
00:02:04You're right on time for a " and now, let's all get some hands together for four beautiful people who represent a mighty mountain of soul -- the very gifted and talented gladys knight and the dancing, swinging, singing pips!
00:02:18>> ♪ Calling out to everyone ♪
00:02:20♪ across the nation ♪
00:02:22♪ nation, nation, nation ♪♪
00:02:25>> Cornelius: Gladys knight was the key to us getting the syndication deal, because we had to have a major star.
00:02:32>> ♪ This train stands for ♪
00:02:34♪ justice justice ♪
00:02:35♪ this train stands for ♪
00:02:37♪ freedom freedom ♪
00:02:39♪ this train stands for ♪
00:02:40♪ harmony and peace ♪♪
00:02:42>> Narrator: While landing gladys knight was a coup, don still struggled to book big-name talent on the show.
00:02:51>> Cornelius: We didn't have the leverage to make anybody who was large do a new television show.
00:02:57>> Narrator: As a result, don turned to the people who helped him to get where he was -- old friends from his days in chicago.
00:03:03>> He would find out what hotel we were at, and he'd literally come by early in the morning, knocking on the door.
00:03:10"Come out -- I need you to come " [ laughs ] >> ♪♪
00:03:16♪ what they do ♪
00:03:17♪ they smile in your face ♪
00:03:19♪ and all the time ♪
00:03:21♪ they want to take your place ♪
00:03:22♪ the backstabbers ♪♪
00:03:24>> Narrator: Don's hustling led to a string ppearances by mainstays of the old chicago version of the show, like the staple singers, king, and don's loyal friend curtis mayfield.
00:03:35>> ♪ Get down ♪
00:03:37♪ baby ♪
00:03:39♪ to the funky, funky ♪
00:03:41♪ funky groove ♪
00:03:43♪ get down ♪♪
00:03:45>> Cornelius: Curtis mayfield was there every single time we ever asked him.
00:03:51>> ♪ We're all children ♪
00:03:53♪ of the world ♪
00:03:54♪ all right ♪
00:03:55♪ let's get down ♪♪
00:03:57>> Narrator: Booking talent wasn't don's only challenge that first season -- finding super-fly dancers initially proved difficult.
00:04:03And he never would have found them without the help of an unlikely talent booker -- an unassuming civil servant named pam brown.
00:04:11>> I had worked at several recreation centers, and knew a lot of young people in the age group that don was looking for.
00:04:19Anything that has to do with youth in a positive manner, I'm on board.
00:04:23>> Cornelius: And this lady took me by the hand and said, "i'm going to show you some " [ laughs ] >> ♪♪
00:04:31>> Cornelius: When I first saw danced, it was a little wild and crazy for me, because I was from the cool school in chicago.
00:04:40>> Brown: He was saying, "california kids don't know " he was real cool with it.
00:04:45>> Narrator: They held the first auditions at one of local l.a.
00:04:48Rec centers where pam worked, and overnight, don had found his dancers.
00:04:53>> All the killers was there -- I mean, the killer dancers -- damita jo freeman and patricia davis and don campbell and jimmy "scooby-doo" and rerun.
00:05:05They were all at that first audition.
00:05:08And they were kicking legs and feet high, and spinning, doing the splits, and flipping.
00:05:14If she had given me a choice, I would have said to all of them, "please, don't dance like " >> ♪♪
00:05:25>> Cornelius: But the television audience disagreed.
00:05:31>> Narrator: The outrageous dancers were an instant hit with kids all across the country.
00:05:37>> I remember me and my older cousins getting up in front of the television and trying to do the funky penguin.
00:05:43>> ♪ Do the funky penguin ♪
00:05:46♪ do it right now ♪♪
00:05:47>> Man: This was your only source of what the latest dances were, so you pretty much had to use your memory to memorize everythi entire week, and hope that they did that same move again.
00:05:58>> What do you call that?
00:05:59>> Woman: P.a. slaughter.
00:06:00>> P.a. slaughter.
00:06:01I wanted to make up a dance, and let people know that I was from philadelphia, as well.
00:06:07 slaughter -- it was like, wup, wup, wup.
00:06:10.. ♪
00:06:19>> [ cheers and applause ] >> the dancers, in my book, had to be one of the most important elements of that show.
00:06:26>> Narrator: Kids at home weren't just copying the dance moves, they were copying everything about the dances.
00:06:34>> Man: That's what I think we really enjoyed about "soul train" is like being able to pick up on the fashion, you know, how your after school clothes was going to look.
00:06:41You know, you was like, "this what I got to have, you know, when school start.
00:06:45>> We all looked like " we had dashikis and braids and bell bottoms and afros and medallions and tikis, and we learned it all from " >> ♪♪
00:07:00>> Narrator: Without the dancers, the show might never have made it past the first season.
00:07:04>> Cornelius: Those kids -- they really made the because in the beginning, we just didn't have the big stars.
00:07:09They just were knocking everybody out across the country.
00:07:13>> ♪♪
00:07:16>> Narrator: By the fifth episode, don realized he had to capitalize on the dancer's exploding popularity, so he introduced a signature showcase for them.
00:07:24>> Right now, we'd like to hip you to the "soul train" line.
00:07:26It gives everybody a chance to kind of style awhile, and something you might want to get into on your own at parties and dances.
00:07:33>> ♪ If you disrespect ♪
00:07:35♪ everybody that you run into ♪♪
00:07:39>> Cornelius: The "soul train" line was something that we used to do at pchicago IN THE '50s AND '60s, PROBABLY, And I just borrowed it.
00:07:48It just caught on as the highlight of every "soul train" show.
00:07:53>> ♪ If you don't respect ♪
00:07:56♪ yourself, ain't nobody gonna ♪
00:08:00♪ give a good cahoot ♪♪
00:08:03>> Proctor: It was the best part of the whole weekend -- is going down the line.
00:08:06>> And here we go with the "soul train" line.
00:08:09The "soul train" gang -- earth, wind, and fire, and " >> ♪♪
00:08:16>> you never did know what those kids were going to do when they came down that line.
00:08:22You just knew, the next one better be better than the last one.
00:08:24>> Proctor: It was very competitive, but in a positive way.
00:08:27We would all cheer each other on as we'd come down.
00:08:30>> [ Cheers and applause ] >> ♪ for a brighter day ♪
00:08:34♪ for what ya search ♪
00:08:35♪ you'll find a way ♪♪
00:08:38>> Narrator: The "soul train" line gave viewers a reason to crowd around the tv from week to week.
00:08:43>> QuestLove: There was always that one person that had to let everybody know the segment before the "soul train" line came on.
00:08:49That was my job.
00:08:49You pretty much had to -- "aunt sharon, uncle bob, 'soul train' line about to come " it was like the ice cream man was coming.
00:09:03>> Narrator: One afternoon, mary wilson of the supremes made her own mark on the line.
00:09:08>> I wish I could join the "soul train" line.
00:09:11Wh-- you think I could do that?
00:09:13>> Dance with don.
00:09:15>> Woman: Dance with don.
00:09:16>> Dance with don.
00:09:17That's the new thing.
00:09:19Okay, don, can I dance with you?
00:09:20>> Oh, yeah, you can dance with me.
00:09:22>> [ Cheers and applause ] ..
00:09:24>> She talked him into coming down the line with her.
00:09:26>> You think I could come up that "soul train" line?
00:09:28>> [ Cheers and applause ] >> [ dancers clapping along ] >> Proctor: We were stunned, but we were elated at the same time, 'cause this was actually the first time that any of the "soul train" gang got to see don dance.
00:09:49>> Cornelius: Growing up, I was never the worst dancer at the party.
00:09:56I was one of the guys who could throw-down.
00:09:59>> Brown: It's hard to dance and come down a line -- to move in a forward fashion.
00:10:04You know, don found that out.
00:10:08>> [ Laughter ] >> Brown: He said, " and he never tried it again.
00:10:18>> Narrator: By the end of its first season, "soul train" has found its groove.
00:10:22The show had expanded from 7 to 50 cities.
00:10:26Don cornelius and "soul train" had arrived.
00:10:30>> ♪♪
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00:13:41>> Narrator: "Soul train" kicked off its second season with a bang.
00:13:45Don cornelius landed ike and tina turner for the august 1972 premiere.
00:13:49His days of struggling to book a-list talent were finally over.
00:13:54>> ♪ I left a good job ♪
00:13:56♪ in the city ♪
00:13:57♪ working for the man ♪
00:13:59♪ every night and day ♪
00:14:01♪ but I never lost a minute ♪
00:14:03♪ of sleeping ♪
00:14:03♪ worrying about the way ♪
00:14:05♪ things might have been ♪
00:14:06♪ big wheel keep on turnin' ♪
00:14:09♪ proud mary keep on burnin' ♪
00:14:11♪ rollin', rollin' ♪
00:14:15♪ rollin' on the river ♪♪
00:14:18>> Narrator: In the weeks to come, ike and tina were followed by an impressive array of stars, thanks in large part to the show's smallest but most influential fans.
00:14:28>> Cornelius: It was the kids that watched the early syndicated versions of " they would say to people like aretha franklin, "mama, you seen that 'soul train' show?
00:14:38" I'm speechless.
00:14:41I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to have you here.
00:14:43I feel like I'm on the top of the mountain.
00:14:45>> Don't be. it's my pleasure.
00:14:46Thank you.
00:14:47>> I understand that at your home in new york, you check us out once in a while, you and your family?
00:14:52>> Not "once in a while --" all the time, every saturday.
00:14:56>> Narrator: When aretha appeared on "soul train," she was at her peak with 14 top ten hits, and 6 grammys under her belt.
00:15:04>> ♪ Rock steady, baby ♪
00:15:07♪ that's what I feel now ♪
00:15:09♪ let's call this song ♪
00:15:12♪ exactly what it is ♪
00:15:14♪ just move your hips ♪
00:15:16♪ with a feeling ♪
00:15:17♪ from side to side ♪
00:15:19♪ sit yourself down ♪
00:15:20♪ in your car ♪
00:15:21♪ and take a ride ♪
00:15:22♪ and while you're moving ♪
00:15:24♪ rock steady ♪♪
00:15:25when you got to "soul train," you had it going on.
00:15:28You knew that everyone was going to check your appearance, because everybody watched " so I couldn't wait to get " ♪ ooh-ooh ♪
00:15:37♪ put your hands up ♪
00:15:38♪ in the air ♪
00:15:39♪ a feelin' ♪
00:15:40♪ you ain't got a care ♪
00:15:45>> Cornelius: From there, stevie wonder walked in the door.
00:15:48And when stevie wonder walked in the door, I said, "uh-oh.
00:15:52We getting ready -- " >> ♪ when you believe ♪
00:15:58♪ in things ♪
00:15:59♪ that you don't understand ♪
00:16:02♪ then you suffer ♪
00:16:04♪ superstition ain't the way ♪♪
00:16:07>> Narrator: At the same time, the "soul train" dancers were becoming stars in their own well as rivals.
00:16:14>> When you're on the outside looking in on the situation, everything seems like, you know, everybody loves each other, and they're all friends.
00:16:22And there was some of that, but there was a lot that it wasn't that at all.
00:16:27>> Woman: The minute that camera came towards you, and you saw that red light, somebody would jump in front of