By Giovanni Zaburoni
The hippest trip in America is making a comeback thanks to Black Entertainment Television. According to The Grio, BET Network representatives say the company has acquired “Soul Train,” an iconic, groundbreaking dance show that showcased African-American music artists like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and more, while also introducing Black culture to mainstream audiences throughout the 20th century.
“Soul Train” was on air from 1971 to 2006. That’s 36 seasons, more than 1,000 episodes, and 40 television specials. Now that BET, which is owned by Viacom, owns “Soul Train’s” intellectual property, the company plans to strengthen the brand in the 21st century by building on the success of the “Soul Train Music Awards” and introducing aspects of the show to new audiences.
According to BET executive Richard Gay, the company has plans to introduce a Broadway play and a “Soul Train” concert tour. Gay told USA Today that, “we look forward to finding engaging and smart ways to grow the brand while preserving its heritage and legacy in music, dance and fashion.”
“Soul Train” was founded by the late Don Cornelius and as popular music trends changed from funk to disco, then new wave to new jack swing, the show persevered. The dancers were just as popular as the music artists that did guest appearances on the show. According to Ericka Blount Danois, the author of Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments, “When people tuned into the show, they didn’t just tune in to see their favorite performers, they tuned in to see their favorite dancers come down the ‘Soul Train’ line.”
Many of the artists and dancers on the show inspired some of the most creative artists of our time. QuestLove of The Roots wrote a book about how much “Soul Train” influenced him as a child and his musical success. According to the website Pitchfork, QuestLove says, “My ‘Soul Train’ education began when a zigzagging animated train came barreling down the tracks, looking like it might burst right through the screen. It was so well put together that even a traditionalist like my dad accepted it with a head nod.”
Stephen Deusner, a writer at Pitchfork sums up just how important “Soul Train” has been to pop culture. “’Soul Train’ was about dance, movement, and music, what they conveyed in America and to America during the last quarter of the 20th century. BET is hoping to continue carrying out the legacy of love, peace, and soul.