On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Nelson George, acclaimed filmmaker, TV producer, journalist, and author of ‘The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style.’
When it debuted on October 2, 1971, seven years after the Civil Rights Act, Soul Train boldly went where no variety show had gone before, showcasing the cultural preferences of young African-Americans and the sounds that defined their lives: R&B, funk, jazz, disco, and gospel music.
The brainchild of Chicago radio announcer Don Cornelius, the show’s producer and host, Soul Train – the longest-running syndicated program in television - featured a diverse range of stars, from James Brown and David Bowie to Christine Aguilera and R. Kelly; Marvin Gaye and Elton John to the New Kids on the Block and Stevie Wonder.
Everyone knew that Cornelius had "ambition": he was a car salesman, policeman, and insurance agent before his “deep voice” led him to WVON radio in 1966 as a news reader and street reporter. He made the transition to TV two years later, and he soon realized there was a need for a "black" TV program.
Soul Train is best remembered for introducing the ‘soul train line’ into the cultural lexicon and was responsible for presenting a positive image of black America, for black America, in a time of social upheaval and unrest.
The Hippest Trip in America tells the full story of this pop culture phenomenon that appealed not only to African Americans, but to a wide crossover audience as well. Famous dancers like Rosie Perez and Jody Watley, performers such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Barry White, and Cornelius himself share their memories, offering insights into the show and its time—a period of extraordinary social and political change. Colorful and pulsating, The Hippest Trip In America is a fascinating portrait of a revered cultural institution that has left an indelible mark on our national consciousness.