Don Cornelius, who was truly one of the pioneers of music television, has been found dead in his home in California this morning, February 1st, with entertainment website TMZ claiming that the creator of the much-loved 'Soul Train' music program had committed suicide. Police have reportedly said that Cornelius had died from a gunshot to the head, which officials believe was self-inflicted; he was rushed to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead once he got there.
Cultural history may well place 'Soul Train' as one of the most influential and important shows of all time. Not only was it a precursor to MTV's rapid rise in the 80s but, for a Black American culture that had been largely marginalized throughout the 20th century, its consistent championing of the likes of would-be legends like Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Aretha Franklin gave black music a crucial visual identity, allowing its guests to grow as icons and not just musicians. Beginning in Chicago in 1970 and being first aired nationally in 1971, it ran for 25 years showcasing the best in rhythm and blues and soul, as well as documenting the rise of hip-hop.
Tributes have unsurprisingly come pouring in for Cornelius, with a statement from The Recording Academy's President Neil Portnow reading "Recording Academy Trustees Award recipient Don Cornelius . made an indelible impact on American television, one that will continue to be appreciated for generations to come," going on to add, "The music industry has lost a true visionary and trailblazer, and our deepest sympathies extend to his family, friends, and all who welcomed him in their homes for so many years." Others to pay tribute include producer Quincy Jones who, The Press Association reports, said "Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. 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." Cornelius was 75.