We lose great people every year out of Hollywood, and the music business. But, if you recall over the last three short months we have lost a few powerhouses – Don Cornelius, Dick Clark, and most recently Donna Summer. I neglected to pay tribute to the first two individually, but after losing Donna Summer I had this tugging at my heart, and decided to honor these three from my youth, together. Were you a teenager during the time of American Bandstand and Soul Train? If you were, then the loss of these two show business greats had to have an affect in some way – large or small. Some of you reading this aren’t old enough to remember Don Cornelius and Dick Clark’s beginnings, including myself, I am only aware of what I’ve read. But, the memories of some of the American Bandstand broadcasts will forever hold a special place in my heart. This program brought us acts like Creedance Clearwater Revival, The Jackson Five, and Jim Croce. Then, as I watched New Year’s Rocking Eve; listening to him speak, and looking into his face, it all created a sense of serenity. Like being in the presence of an old and dear friend – someone you could say or do anything around – a person you grew up with and you’ve known since childhood. I do believe, many of us had that same sort of calming sensation whenever he came into our living rooms.
Once Don Cornelius came on the scene, his Soul Train became the African-American’s Bandstand, if you will. And, like much of the nation, I too ran to the television on Saturday morning, wanting to get a glimpse of what act he would feature that particular week. I remember at one point the two shows overlapped. Watching Soul Train, however, fed my ethnic soul with acts like The Delfonics, Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin. Saturday’s episode provided a fix that would carry me from one week to the next. What can I say about the Seventies? An era way different from any other. But, Don Cornelius helped define the time, I think. His show definitely helped make a country aware of its music, dress and performers. Although it began its humble beginnings in Chicago in 1965, against the backdrop of a racially tense country, he worked behind the scenes growing it to what it had become in the ’80s and ’90s, hosting not only African-American performers, but white as well. Groups like the Average White Band and Elton John began the run to the show, and at one point entertainers understood they only furthered their career by securing a spot on the program. I have to say, Mr. Cornelius built a giant in the industry, regardless of its modest beginning.
Now, when it comes to Donna Summer, what can one say? As many did, she stepped out of the church, only making her way back after some years of performing secular music. For me, many of her songs held a definite ethereal air about them. I mostly recall places like Ipanema and Boombamakaoo, hot spots in Manhattan where the flooded dance floor moved like a sea current to numbers like Could It be Magic, and McArthur Park; where an orchestrated roar reverberated from the walls when Spring Affair piped from the speakers. And, although she acquired the title “Queen of Disco,” the mighty dominion of a higher authority returned her to the roots in the church, which I am certain is how she’d rather be remembered.
What times our three celebrities left in our hearts and minds; two different time spans that will live with me forever. Although, some of us, like Donna Summer have returned to our own teachings as well, all of the past is carried with us, it has helped carve us into what we are today, be it from Creedance Clearwater Revival, Aretha or Elton John. In any event, as much as our three greats are missed by their families – we, the public will miss them as well.