Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hippest Trip in America & Oakland

"Soul Train represents our proudest examples of the partnership's consistent pursuit of our common goal of creating extraordinary exposure opportunities for minority and other recording artists on national television.” –Don Cornelius

The Hippest Trip in America

When I mention the hippest trip in America, there are few people in America who don't know of the phrase and it's pop culture roots. Of course, I'm talking about none other than Soul Train. Soul Train was an American variety musical show that showcased the best and brightest in R&B, soul, and hip hop. The show was created, written, and produced by its host Don Cornelius and aired in syndication from 1971-2006. Soul Train is credited with glamorizing soul music and featured a myriad of artists from Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keys. It encouraged audience members to take note of performers, pop culture, and politics. And,was  also on the cutting edge of trend setting in dance and fashion. Soul Train has the honor of being the longest running first run nationally syndicated program in television history with over 1,100 shows produced from the shows debut through it's 2005-2006 season. 

Don Cornelius

The path to ' Love, Peace, and Soul" was not an easy one. Before its inception, Don Cornelius took what he considered to be a gamble by enrolling in a broadcasting school in Chicago. He enrolled in the Spring of 1966. In spite of being advised that he and the majority of those enrolled in the course might never get jobs in broadcasting, Cornelius decided to give the course his best shot. Being a radio announcer had always been his dream. Later, after completing the course, Cornelius was hired as a part time news reader and radio disc jockey at WVON in Chicago. (Lesson here? Follow your dreams. Don't listen to the peanut gallery.)

Around the same time that Cornelius began officially working in radio, WCIU-TV, a new television station in Chicago began airing two youth oriented dance programs: Kiddie-a-Go-Go- and Red Hot Blues. These programs--specifically the latter, which featured a predominately African American group of in studio dancers would set the stage for what was to come to the station a few year later. Don Cornelius was hired by WCIU in 1967 as a news and sports reporter. At the time, Cornelius was also promoting and emceeing a touring series of concerts featuring local talents ( sometimes called record hops) at Chicago area high schools. He called his traveling caravan of shows "The Soul Train". WCIU-TV took notice of Cornelius' outside work and in 1970 allowed him the opportunity to bring his road show to television. The station provided a small studio space and Cornelius  produced the original pilot at his own expense. Soul Train became an instant hit across Chicago television audiences , which attracted the attention of George Johnson, founder and President of Johnson Products Company ( Ultra Sheen/ Afro Sheen hair care products). Johnson proposed an advertising partnership that would involve taking Soul Train in a direction toward national syndication. Cornelius began commuting to Hollywood in search of better production facilities, and in the summer of 1971, he secured a facility and an experienced production crew. The syndication went on the air on  October 2, 1971 and it was an instant success with audiences. The first episode of the program featured Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Honeycomb, Bobby Hutton, and Eddie Kendricks. You can see Don Cornelius DJ roots in this clip from the very first episode: 

The Soul Train Line

On the fifth national episode of Soul Train that aired on October 30, 1971, a segment was introduced that became a mainstay of the show and has become a staple  of parties throughout the world.  That segment was the legendary Soul Train Line. Soul Train host and creator Don Cornelius said that the Soul Train Line was popular at the parties that he attended in Chicago, so when the program debuted locally in Chicago, Cornelius presented the line dance on his show. Cornelius had no idea what he started when he began showcasing the Soul Train Line when it aired. The show aired nationally in seven markets in the US and ultimately reached over twenty-five markets by the end of 1972. The first Soul Train Line song played on the national broadcast of the program was the popular Staple Singers hit " Respect Yourself". As the beat of the song kicked in,couples grooved enthusiastically  down the Soul Train line, wearing the latest in brightly colored suits, platforms, bell bottoms, and mini skirts while sporting perfectly coiffed large and small Afros, French Braids and Afro Puffs. 

Here is the clip of the first Soul Train Line! 


So, you may ask, what does Oakland, CA have to do with the Soul Train Legacy. Well, I'm glad you did!  We already know that Oakland, CA has an abundance of Soul. On Saturday, June 20, 2015, we proved it in a big way!  Three hundred and thirty seven dancers ( including yours truly) showed up to at DeFremery Park to beat the Longest Soul Train Line  record of 298 dancers. Philadelphia has held the title since 2012. The number was short of the 500 people the event's organizers had hoped to attract, but  it was certified by Guinness World Records Ltd. on Saturday afternoon that Oakland's affinity for the "Soul Train" television show's classic dance platform is record-breaking. Here are some photos from the record breaking day!

Hip Couple at the Soul Train Line!

Another dancer in the Spirit!

Feeling that Seventies Soul Train Vibe!

The Green Team was the last team to go down the line to break the record!
Team Green Celebrating the win!

More Team Green Celebrating!

 Beating the record for the longest "Soul Train"-style line was the brainchild of the Friends of DeFremery Center, whose mission is to provide activities at the park for low-income people who use its services. The event, dubbed Oak Train, was a fundraiser for kids to go to a five-week camp that usually costs about $500 per child, and keep other activities free. Each dancer got a T-shirt -- orange, purple, pink, yellow and blue -- so the record keepers could keep track of their numbers.

DeFremery Center offers Summer Camp for Oakland Youth!

DeFremery Center also offers Free Meals!

 Once the dancing started, some of the first down the line were former "Soul Train'' dancers Jeffrey McCrimon, of Brentwood, and Sally Achenbach and Nellie Gonzales, both of Los Angeles. During their run on the show, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the dances of the day were the robocop, running man, Roger Rabbit, the tilt and the sledgehammer. But, there were folks there doing the bump, the four corners, the cha cha, the dougie, and the wop! In other words, varied age ranges were represented and to quote Hedda Hopper, ' A good time was had by all".  If you would like to learn more about the Friends of DeFremery Center, donate money or attend other events, more information can be found here! Your Ms. Brown will certainly be making an attempt to get over their way a bit more. One thing is for sure, when you attend one of the Friends of DeFremery Center events, you can bet your last money, it's gonna be a stone gas honey!' In parting, I wish you...

 Love, Peace, and Soul!
Ms. Brown

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