Ending the service, Stevie Wonder was led on stage in a black linen suit, his hair in a long ponytail as he sat at the piano and joked about the first time being on “Soul Train” performing “Superstition.”--“As much as I couldn’t see the dancers, I could feel them,” he paused. “And from what I felt, I thought, ‘Don we got a hit.’”
He moved the crowd to tears with “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” after he sang a rendition of the “Soul Train” song he created on the spot for Cornelius when he was on the show.
Cornelius’s ceramic urn was surrounded with burnt orange gerber daisies and roses, magenta and purple stock, roses, white and green dendrobium orchids, white hydrengas and cascading English ivy. Three larger than life pictures of him sat in the front of the auditorium, pictures of him smiling holding a microphone, holding a “Soul Train” award, festooned by more flowers.
Even as people remembered him fondly, it was hard to ignore the burning question in the back of everyone’s mind –did he realize he was loved?
“When we did the ‘Hippest Trip in America’ [VH1 documentary], I was so proud that Don was able to see that and that it got nominated for an Emmy,” said Kenard Gibbs at the reception. “He was excited about the Smithsonian dedication and having a street named after him in Chicago.”
Did he feel appreciated?
“He told me he did,” said Gibbs.
“He closed the show saying, ‘I wish you love, peace, and soul,’ advertising mogul Tom Burrell told the crowd. “It is my observation that he worked on the love thing, he had soul in abundance, but for like so many of us, inner peace is difficult. We should be assured that he has finally achieved what he wished for us, love, inner peace, and soul.”
The ceremony ended with clips from “Soul Train,” including one of Cornelius coming down the “Soul Train” line, with slick dance moves that illustrated that he probably had little trouble keeping a girl interested at a basement party. Then there was another of him playing basketball with Marvin Gaye. Footage from the ‘70s, it was clearly beginning to weather with time, at times getting stuck. But, no one complained, they watched the screen, some waiting patiently in the aisles, hoping for more.
--Ericka Blount Danois is the author of the forthcoming book, tentatively titled, “Soul Train’s Mighty Ride, Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show,” to be published by Backbeat Books in August.