September 21, 2010 / 5:42 PM / 8 years ago

Soul Train's greatest hits finally out on DVD

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Soul Train” is finally pulling into the DVD station.

Singer Little Richard performs a musical tribute to producer Don Cornelius creator and producer of the television music show "Soul Train" at the 3rd annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, California March 13, 2005. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The new owners of the venerable television property have teamed with Time Life to release a three-disc package featuring performances by the likes of Marvin Gaye, James Brown, the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder.

The dance show aired from 1970 to 2006, making it the longest running U.S. series in first run syndication.

It was the brainchild of Don Cornelius, an ambitious Chicago DJ who decided in the late ‘60s to launch an “American Bandstand”-style show featuring young black people dancing to recorded music. Few shared his view, and he self-funded a pilot in 1969. It aired on a Chicago TV station the following year, and eventually was picked up TV stations nationwide.

Plenty of bootleg footage exists, but Cornelius was never inclined to release an official DVD package, telling Reuters in 2008 that it was acceptable to leave money on the table.

But he sold the “Soul Train” franchise two months later for an undisclosed sum to multimedia firm Madvision Entertainment. Its three principals promptly declared it to be an undervalued franchise.

The DVD package follows the release of a documentary that aired earlier this year on VH1. Plans are also underway to revive the annual Soul Train Music Awards, which ended their 22-year run in 2006 after being increasingly ignored by the African-American stars the event aimed to honor.

Cornelius, now 73, had little involvement with the DVD release, apart from sitting down for an interview that appears in the extras and fact-checking a press release.

The DVD focuses on the show’s — and perhaps soul music’s — heyday in the 1970s. Among the offerings: Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” Gaye’s “Distant Lover,” a Wonder medley of “My Cherie Amour,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

Most of the acts lip-synched, but others like Brown and Barry White insisted on keeping it real. White brought along his orchestra for a segment that included “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “Love’s Theme.”

All the while, the deep-voiced Cornelius — in an ever changing array of hairstyles — introduces and interviews the guests. Some of them take questions from the dancers, while Gladys Knight turns the tables and directs questions to the audience.

Cornelius told Reuters in a recent interview that he gets emotional if he watches vintage footage of fallen artists like Gaye, Brown, White and Michael Jackson. “A lot of people I was friends with just aren’t here anymore,” he said.

Instead he follows contemporary artists like Jay-Z and Eminem on the morning and late-night TV talk shows. “I still watch everything,” he said. “If you wanna educate yourself it’s out there.”

As he eases into retirement with his health intact, Cornelius is trying to revive a “Soul Train” movie after the project was dropped by Warner Bros. He does not give much thought to his own legacy, and minimizes his role in the starmaking process.

“People constantly want to give me credit for making stars,” he said. “We never made anybody. We scratched each other’s backs. We didn’t make anybody’s career just because they got their first major exposure on Soul Train. They were gonna be stars anyway.”

Even though he became a recognizable personality in his own right with the requisite Rolls-Royce, a home in Bel-Air and a lifetime-achievement Grammy, he never mistook himself for a star.

“If you’re not making the music, if you’re not writing the music, singing the music, producing the music, you’re secondary,” he said.

“It’s guys like Babyface and Prince and Stevie (Wonder) and Lady Gaga, these are the people who deserve the credit. It’s not impresario guys, or guys that introduce the talent that can take very much credit.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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