Don Cornelius: Soul Train, Early Life & Career Struggle 

Don Cornelius was an American TV presenter who was born in Chicago, Illinois, the USA, on September 27, 1936, as Donald Cortez Cornelius.

Early Years

He grew up in the area of Bronzeville, on the south side of Chicago. 

He pursued arts at DuSable high school and completed his studies in 1954. After that, he Enlisted in U.S Marines Corps and served in the Korean airbase for 18 months.

Upon returning to the USA from the Korean base in 1956, he tied the knot with his childhood love, Deloris Harrison, and soon became a father.

His first child, Anthony Cornelius, was born in 1958, and his second child Raymond Cornelius was born in 1959.

Professional Challenges 

Due to a lack of funds, he took up jobs as a salesman, selling tires, automobiles, cars, and insurance and began earning a substantial weekly income. 

Following his military service, he held various positions, including an officer with the Chicago police department. 

Yet, Cornelious was always passionate about arts and aspired to pursue a career in media, particularly radio.

While juggling financial pressures and career choices, don Cornelious enrolled in a three-month broadcasting course as an opportunity to advance his career.

With only $400 in his bank account and a family to support, Don Cornelious faced a significant challenge in pursuing his passion, but it proved to be a wise decision.

Shortly after completing the course, he began working part-time as an announcer, news reporter, and disc jockey on a Chicago radio station with WVON.

The pay was insufficient, but he was fulfilling his ambition. 

He remarked, ‘I filled in as an all-around substitute at WVON. I felt I had to justify my job there. It was a very black station. I was sitting in for DJs and newspeople, doing public affairs outside the station, hosting the talk show, and recording commercials.’

Soul Train

In 1967, Don Cornelius joined Chicago television station WCIU-TV and hosted a news program called A Black’s View of the News.

In 1970, The host proposed the concept for his show SOUL TRAIN, which the management agreed to as they were already exploring ethnic programming. 

Thus, on the same news channel, Don Cornelious also launched Soul Train as a daily local show. The show’s name was inspired by the program he hosted for WVON. The black music format was distinctive and captured the management’s attention. 

However, he still required a sponsor for the program to be broadcast on TV. 

No one in the corporate sphere approved his idea until he encountered George O’Hare, a Sears, Roebuck & Co merchandise manager, who offered assistance.

Cornelious remarked, ‘ George was a person who… was always open to new concepts. When I met him, I expected him to echo what so many others had stated about programming for Blacks. The notion that Blacks ‘need’ cultural or historical programs and not necessarily entertainment.”

Finally, in August 1970, the first Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV channel 26. 

The show featured a live performance by singer Jerry Butler [then of the Impressions] and dancers, along with myself in some whimsical attire we came up with, ” Cornelius revealed in Billboard. “But aside from being the most economical package imaginable, it was essentially what we do today, the same style and attitude.”

The show relocated to Los Angeles the following year. The national Debut episode featured Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Hutton, and Honey Cone. 

Don Cornelious was the sole writer, producer, and advertiser of the show. Following the show’s airing, it became popular among the black community as Chicago’s top show. After extensive struggles and high ratings, Don managed to secure Wate-On, Joe Louis Milk, and Coca-Cola as sponsors, joining Sears. 

National Airtime

Don began working on a national broadcast of Soul Train, which was aired across the country. The show was sponsored by George Johnson, president of Johnson Products, a black-owned manufacturer of hair and facial cosmetics, and the audience was perceived to be the same as the company’s customer base. 

His program introduced numerous African-American musicians to a wider audience and provided a platform for dance programs.  

Thanks to his show, black artists such as Mickael Jackson, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye gained exposure in the music industry. 

Cornelius expressed, “We had a show that captivated young viewers,” and Spike Lee referred to the program as an “urban music time capsule.”

The show’s ratings eventually attracted a white audience and grew tremendously, amassing a substantial following. 

He also appeared in numerous films in supporting roles. His final on-screen appearance was on the Unsung TV series, which aired just two days before his passing.  


The presenter was also accused of confining and sexually assaulting two young playboys bunnies. 

Similar Account: Don Lemon Faces Allegations of Sexual Assault from Three Years Ago

Masten claimed Cornelius invited the “Baby Bunnies” to his house for a party.

“These two young women rode in his Rolls-Royce, went up to his house, and we didn’t hear from them for three days,” Masten alleged, as quoted by the outlet. “We couldn’t locate them.”

According to Masten, Don was a prominent figure among girls. Following a three-day absence, one of the women contacted a bunny mother, and they were subsequently released from Cornelius’ residence.

Death or Suicide

On 1st Feb 2012, the presenter passed away at his residence on Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, California, the United States, from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Reports indicated that he may have been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

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