SOUL TRAIN Creator and Executive Producer Don Cornelius has been at the cutting edge of Soul music (including Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop, Gospel and Jazz) for over 30 years. His influence and achievements have been recognized by Hollywood and the broadcasting community alike, with a STAR on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and his induction into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. The year 2005 was, indeed, a pinnacle year, in terms of equally prestigious honors being bestowed upon Don Cornelius and Soul Train, with Cornelius and Soul Train receiving a Special Grammy Award from the NARAS Board of Regents, for career contributions and achievements. The year 2005 was also a year during which Cornelius and Soul Train would, combinely be honored with the coveted 2005 Pop Culture Award at the 2005 TV Land (network) Awards cablecast. Soul Train’s 25th consecutive season on the air provided the momentum, in 1995, for the Cornelius Production Team to mount an all-star CBS television special; while the weekly dance show, alone, would continuing to inspire at least two generations of music aficionados, with its hip dances, fashions and exciting performances by R&B/Soul, Hip Hop, Gospel, Jazz and Pop recording artists.
For a number of years, the longest running TV program of any genre in the entire history of first-run, nationally syndicated TV programming, in America, Soul Train celebrated its 30th consecutive season on the air with a nationally syndicated, June/2000 TV special, entitled Divas and Kings, 2000 and Beyond/The Soul Train 30th Anniversary.
In addition to the weekly series, (which for 22 consecutive years featured Don Cornelius, himself, as Soul Train’s On-Air Host), Don Cornelius Productions produces three, annual, nationally syndicated, prime time TV specials -- the Soul Train Music Awards (20th year), the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards (10th year), and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest, which debuted in 1998.
The Annual Soul Train TV specials are among the most enthusiastically supported, by the recording industry and all attract top performance talent, annually, including the likes of Dianna Ross, the late Barry White, Patty LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, the late Luther Vandross, Vanessa Williams, LL Cool J, Anita Baker, Boyz II Men and many others.
Ironically, the Soul Train legacy almost didn't happen. In the spring of 1966, Don Cornelius took what he considered to be a gamble, at best and enrolled in a broadcasting school in Chicago. He had been advised, during indoctrination, that he and the majority of those enrolled in the course might never get jobs in broadcasting. Despite the odds against success, Cornelius decided to give the course a try, since being a radio announcer had always been a dream of his. Cornelius attended classes in the morning, while maintaining a regular job during the rest of the day and in three months had completed the course.
In 1967, Cornelius was offered a part-time position as a news announcer on Chicago radio station WVON, one of Chicago's most popular Black-oriented stations. Later, he would set his sights on TV and TV production, which led to his idea for a Black-oriented dance show. Cornelius pitched the idea to WCIU-TV in Chicago and agreed to produce the pilot at his own expense, while the station agreed to provide a small studio.
Cornelius completed the pilot and proceeded to hold screenings, in search of advertiser/sponsors. Initially, there were no takers, as advertiser representatives who would screen the pilot did not seem overwhelmed by Cornelius' new idea for a Black-targeted TV dance show, which he called Soul Train.
With a personal promise from Cornelius that, “Full sponsorship was right around the corner,” WCIU-TV (channel 26) began airing the original, local Chicago area, version of Soul Train in five-day-per-week, one-hour, afternoon episodes, on August 17, 1970.
Soul Train became an instant hit, across Chicago TV audiences, which attracted the attention of Johnson Products Company (Ultra Sheen/ Afro Sheen, etc., hair care products) founder and president George Johnson, who proposed an advertising partnership that would involve taking Soul Train in a direction toward national syndication.
In the summer of 1971, Cornelius began commuting to Hollywood, California, in hopes of locating better production facilities than could be found at the time in Chicago. After several trips to California, still with guidance and support from Johnson Products Company, the goals of securing a good facility and an experienced production crew were achieved.
The syndicated version went on the air October 2, 1971. As expected, it was an immediate success in the markets that carried the show. Unfortunately, the syndicating agency was able to premiere the show in only seven of the 25 target cities. The seven included Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Many other station program directors conceded that the show was well produced and very entertaining, but said that they had no open time periods, regardless of the barter considerations being offered by the syndicator. In a number of cases, the syndicator was turned down by all of six or more stations in the same city. Almost invaluably, Soul Train's reputation and popularity grew, rapidly, in the cities that had accepted the show, the syndicator gradually began to pick up more stations.
Soul Train currently reaches 85% of U.S. Black Television households, through station clearances in 105 cities, including all major markets. Soul Train continues to perform well in all ratings research categories and is now, firmly, established, according to Cornelius, as one of America’s most successful targeted TV programs in first run syndication.
In 1985, Tribune Entertainment Company became the exclusive distributor/syndicator of Soul Train, thus providing the program with its most effective support system yet. Two years later, Tribune would also be the avenue for the successful, 1987 launch of the Soul Train Music Awards, live, two-hour television Special, which is presented, annually, in prime time, national syndication.
The Tribune Entertainment Company/Don Cornelius Productions, Inc. relationship would add to the overall Soul Train programming portfolio by launching the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards annual TV special, to honor the accomplishments of women in the music industry, in 1995; and The Soul Train Christmas Starfest, annual, holiday, TV special, in 1998. "All three Soul Train Specials, according to Cornelius represent 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.”
The history of the Butlers/Raw Soul is dense, but for all of us music nerds, that's normal. It is not totally clear what year the Butlers actually formed but they released their first single in 1963 on Liberty Records. That single was "She Tried To Kiss Me" and another single followed on Guyden entitled "Lovable Girl." After the Guyden single the Butlers took a break not recording another record until the single "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" was released on the Phila label in 1966. The group also backed Charles Earland and Jean Wells on one Phila single ("I Know She Loves Me").
As you might be noticing, the Butlers were doing a fair amount of recording but not achieving much success. The group's recordings sold regionally but never had the promotion to make an impact on the national scene. After the single with Phila, the Butlers moved to the Fairmount label (part of the Cameo-Parkway family) and released a handful of singles, some being reissued singles of the past. The Butlers were with Fairmount for 1966-67 and then moved to Sassy Records. Sassy released the group's greatest single (in my opinion) "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" b/w "If That's What You Wanted." A copy of that 45 sold for just under $500 last summer on eBay. Even though that isn't that much in the world of record collecting--it's still a hefty sum. The Butlers released another single on Sassy ("She's Gone" b/w "Love Is Good") that appears to be even
harder to come by then the "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" single.
The true history become a bit blurred here as the AMG biography states that the Butlers last record was released on C.R.S. in 1974 (". However, between 1971 and that single, Frankie Beverly formed a group called Raw Soul and released a number of singles. Some of the songs recorded by Beverly during this period are "While I'm Alone," "Open Up Your Heart," (both on the Gregor label) and "Color Blind." "Color Blind" was released by the Eldorado label and rerecorded by Maze. Beverly's big break came when Marvin Gaye asked Raw Soul to back him on a tour. Gaye helped Beverly/Raw Soul get a contract at Capitol. Beverly decided to take the group in a different direction, a name change occurred, and Maze was created.
The above isn't the most complete history of Beverly but hopefully someone will know a way to get in touch with the man or his management because a comprehensive pre-Maze history needs to be done on Frankie Beverly (his real name is Howard, by the way). Below you'll find every Frankie Beverly (pre-Maze) song available to me right now ("Color Blind" will be up soon).
If you have a song that is not included below, shoot it over to funkinsoulman (at) yahoo.com and it will go up in the next Frankie Beverly post (later this week--highlighting Maze). Also, if you have any more information please share your knowledge. The Butlers material has been comp-ed sporadically (usually imports) but the entire Maze catalog has been reissued and is available.
Enjoy. "She Kissed Me" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"I Want To Feel I'm Wanted" (not sure which label or year) "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" (Phila, 1966) "Because Of My Heart" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" (Sassy, 1967)
"If That's What You Wanted" (Sassy, 1967)
Frankie Beverly is one of those cats that has lasting power. He started in the music business doing a tour with doo wop group the Silhouettes and then formed his own group called the Blenders. The Blenders never recorded a single, Beverly wouldn't appear on wax until forming the Butlers a few years later. Along with Beverly, the Butlers included Jack "Sonny" Nicholson, Joe Collins, John Fitch, and Talmadge Conway.
Beverly would later enjoy great success fronting Maze and Conway would become a
well-known penning Double Exposure's
"Ten Percent" and the Intruders' "Memories Are Here To Stay."
While Maze is a phenomenal group, Beverly's work before that group will always stand out as his best (imo).
The Butlers produced tunes that most Northern Soul fans would kill for and Raw Soul gave the funksters something to pursue. If, by chance, you know of a way to get in touch with Frankie Beverly or his management, please drop me an e-mail. It would be absolutely great to do an interview with him about his pre-Maze work. He's still playing out, most recently doing a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta.