Don Cornelius, who helped spread black music and culture with his long-running TV variety show Soul Train, died Wednesday of a gunshot wound. He was 75.
Officers in Los Angeles found his body after responding to reports of a shooting at his Mulholland Drive home at 4 a.m., Wednesday. Police and the Los Angeles coroner's office say it was an apparent suicide.
"Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business," Quincy Jones said in reaction to news of his death. "Before MTV there was Soul Train, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. My heart goes out to Don's family and loved ones."
'Before MTV there was Soul Train, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius'—Quincy Jones
Soul Train introduced artists such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Barry White and Earth, Wind and Fire to millions of viewers in its 35-year history.
Begun in Chicago as a local show in 1970, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul, and hip hop artists, with a little bit of funk and gospel. It was one of the first shows to showcase black musicians prominently.
Syndicated in 1971, it was not widely broadcast at first, with only eight cities opting to air a show that focused on black culture at a time when the U.S. was still reeling from the civil rights movement.
In 2006, the year the show was cancelled, Cornelius spoke of his disappointment that his creation was not seen more widely at first.
"There was just, 'We don't want it. We pass,"' he said, with race going unmentioned. "No one was blatant enough to say that."
However, the show was so infectious and popular that it was screened nationwide the following year.
Soul Train’s opening with an animated chugging train was followed by featured artists and a crew of black dancers who showed the moves and fashion styles that would go on to influence American culture.
Soul Train dance moves
The Soul Train dance line — where people line up while others sashay down the middle to show their moves – became a cultural staple.
Spike Lee described the show as an urban music time capsule and Rev. Al Sharpton recalled Cornelius's lasting legacy.
"I have known him since I was19 years old and James Brown had me speak on Soul Train,"' the civil rights activist said in a statement from New York Wednesday.
"He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown and he was a cultural game changer on a global level."
Created Soul Train Awards
Cornelius, a former disc jockey with a deep voice, also created the Soul Train Awards to highlight the achievements of black artists.
The show’s popularity waned in the 1980s and 1990s and he stepped down as Soul Train host in 1993, though he remained active behind the scenes.
"I figured as long as the music stayed hot and important and good, that there would always be a reason for Soul Train," Cornelius said.
In his later years, Cornelius had a troubled marriage. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanour spousal battery.
He is a member of the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.