On this day, the late television icon Don Cornelius launches Soul Train and rappers Ja Rule and Will.i.am drop new studio albums. In addition, R&B singers LaTocha Scott and Freddie Jackson celebrate birthdays. Check it out.
1971: Soul Train embarks on “The Hippest Trip in America”
Soul Train, which first aired 47 years ago today, was one of the longest first-run syndicated television programs in broadcast history. It was the brainchild of Don Cornelius, a former radio DJ, who wanted to create a music show for black audiences in response to the then-widely popular dance show Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Soul Train initially premiered in Cornelius’s hometown of Chicago in 1970. Then the program moved to Los Angeles where it started its national syndicated run on Oct. 2, 1971. It stayed on the air for 35 years before the Train came to a stop in March 2006.
During its historical run, Soul Train billed itself as the “hippest trip in America” and gave black artists national exposure at a time when mainstream radio and television wasn’t doing so. Cornelius’ baritone voice and pleasant interviewing style made him a beloved television personality who guaranteed that every show was gonna be a stone gas, honey.
“[Don Cornelius] was a creative genius — someone who took African-American music out of the ’60s, brought it into the ’70s, crossed it over, and had the utmost respect for the artists he presented,” said Marvin Gaye’s widow Janis, who was one of Cornelius’ best friends until his death in February 2012 (quote via Spin).
The young dancers of the “Soul Train Line” provided much of the show’s entertainment as well, with several of them becoming major stars in their own right, including actress Rosie Perez, R&B singer Jody Watley and rapper MC Hammer. The success of Soul Train helped Cornelius form his own record label in the ’70s and launched the Soul Train Awards in 1987.
1985: Prince gets political on the funk-driven “America”
“America” was the fourth and final single from Prince’s seventh album, Around the World in a Day. Written by Prince along with Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman of the Revolution, the song is overtly political as he addresses then-President Ronald Reagan’s policy-making, which he felt was pushing the nation into communism and possibly a nuclear war.
“He didn’t like politics,” said Sheila E. in a 2017 Billboard interview. “He didn’t like a lot of it, but we talked about it all the time. It’s the reason why he wrote ‘America.’ That was ’85 when it was released. He wrote it during the time of [President Ronald] Reagan and when our country went to war with Libya. That’s his response to what was happening then, which is still legitimate and relevant today.”
On Oct. 27, 1985, while filming the movie Under the Cherry Moon, Prince held an invite-only video shoot for “America” at the Théâtre de Verdure in Nice, France. In the nine-minute-long clip, Prince, wearing a long trench coat, black pants, red bandana and matching wide-brimmed hat, leads the Revolution into an energetic performance of “America” and by the end of the song the Purple One gives drummer Bobby Z a break and rocks it out on the drums.
2001: Ja Rule becomes a crossover rap star with Pain is Love
Ja Rule released his third album, Pain Is Love, on this day in 2001. It became Rule’s biggest album of his career, selling three million copies in the U.S. alone. The Murder Inc. artist also nabbed a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination in 2002 but came up empty-handed with the coveted award going to OutKast‘s Stankonia.
The album boasts three chart-topping singles, “Always on Time” (featuring Ashanti), “Livin’ It Up” and the Jennifer Lopez-assisted track “I’m Real (Murder Mix),” which became a No. 1 hit single from the duo.
“It was a special moment because before that I don’t think there were rap artists writing pop songs or R&B records. I was entering into a new arena and it was fun,” Rule told Complex in 2013. “That record really took me global. It was a big record for Jennifer as well because it gave her that urban cool she was looking for. For both of us, it was a win-win.”
2001: Will.i.am finds himself on his solo debut Lost Change
Will.i.am is known for his hip-pop leanings with his Grammy-winning group Black Eyed Peas, but he flipped the script on his solo debut Lost Change. The album came out a month after the horrific Sept. 11 attacks. At that time, there was a call for rap music to move away from violent imagery and focus on uplifting society.
In a 2001 interview with the A.V. Club, Will.i.am believed artists like himself, Talib Kweli, De La Soul and others were delivering positive messages but corporate America (and fans) are not listening to them.
“Hip-hop may offer negative feedback on the world’s problems, but that’s just the hip-hop that’s being promoted now,” he said. “There are hip-hop groups in different sectors and different communities that are doing positive shit, but corporations and companies don’t want to spend the money on them that it would take to get them out there.”
“Music is music. Beats are beats. People love music,” he continued. “People don’t really love poetry; they love music right now. It’s the same in hip-hop. You can have a dope-ass beat, and then have somebody talking about testicles. Everybody’s still going to like that beat. And then you can take the same beat, and have somebody who’s talking about some stuff that we all need to hear. Even though people love music, they’re not really checking for poetry, or for the lyrics, like maybe they should. And that’s why you have a lot of dumb shit on the radio.”
Birthdays: LaTocha Scott and Freddie Jackson
Born in Atlanta on this day, LaTocha Scott, is one-fourth of the legendary R&B group Xscape who had a string of hits in the ’90s, including “Just Kickin’ It.” Also, fellow R&B singer Freddie Jackson (real name is Frederick Anthony Jackson) was born on this day in Harlem, N.Y., in 1956. The veteran crooner is known for his No. 1 R&B hit “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake),” among other songs.