Saturday Night Music, October 3, 2009: Soul Train Dance Line Gigging to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Mighty, Mighty,” 1975
After the horror of Derrion Albert‘s death, I think folks have to remind themselves who they are and what they are still capable of accomplishing.
In the Seventies, a syndicated dance show came about that everybody in the country watched, and gave American Bandstand a run for its money. The young people on Soul Train, which came out of Chicago, IL and was initially sponsored by Sears and Johnson Products, were the source of fascination, pride, and imitation that continues even now. They wore their best and beautiful clothes. They were well-groomed, with wonderful hairdoes, clean, and they were on their best behavior. They looked like any other black kids living in big and small cities around the country. Though there were definite class differences among them, they were so homogenous that it did not matter.
During the heyday of Soul Train in the 1970s and 1980s, the program was widely influential among younger African Americans, many of whom turned to it not only to hear the latest songs by well-known black artists but also for clues about the latest fashions and dance trends. Moreover, for many white Americans in that era who were not living in areas that were racially diverse, Soul Train provided a unique window into black culture. Some commentators have called Soul Train a “black American Bandstand”, another long-running program with which Soul Train shares some similarities. [Don] Cornelius, however, tended to bristle at the Bandstand comparison.
I would have to agree with Don Cornelius. Soul Train was in competition with American Bandstand, let’s get that straight. Once someone watched Soul Train on Saturday mornings or afternoons, American Bandstand fairly paled in comparison. Especially with elements like the Soul Train Dance Line:
Near the program’s conclusion, there was also the popular “Soul Train Line”, in which all the dancers form two lines with a space in the middle for individual dancers to strut down and dance in consecutively. Sometimes, new dance styles or moves are featured or introduced by particular dancers.
In addition, there was an in-studio group of dancers who danced along to the music as it was being performed. Rosie Perez, Carmen Electra, Nick Cannon, MC Hammer, Jermaine Stewart, Fred “Rerun” Berry, Pebbles, and NFL legend Walter Payton were among those who got noticed dancing on the program over the years.
On the other hand, Earth, Wind and Fire was the first black supergroup of the Seventies. “Mighty, Mighty” came from their fifth album, Open Our Eyes, which like the fourth, Head to the Sky and the sixth, That’s The Way of the World were certified platinum (That’s The Way of The World went triple platinum). Three consecutive platinum albums. Its roots were in jazz: Chicagoan Maurice White was a session drummer for Chess Records, working with Ramsey Lewis. The group itself embraces several music genres like funk, jazz, African, soul, rock and Latin. During this “classic” era, EWF was comprised of Maurice White, Verdine White, and Fred White; Philip Bailey, Johnny Graham, Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson, Al McKay, Andrew Woolfolk, Roland Bautista and Beloyd Taylor.
Open Our Eyes was recorded at Caribou, in of all places, Colorado, and it marks the first album produced by the late Charles Stepney, who for two years helmed and perfected their unique sound until he died at 43 of a heart attack in 1976.
While Soul Train ended its 35-year-old continuous syndication run in 2006, and is currently in reruns, Earth, Wind and Fire is celebrating its fortieth year in entertainment in 2009. During the spring and summer, the group toured with Chicago, appeared at the 39th New Orleans Jazz Festival, and headlined at the White House Governor’s Dinner.
- Soul What? Soul Train: The 40th Anniversary of the First National Airing of “Soul Train” (funky70s.wordpress.com)
- Chicago’s 40th Anniversary Soul Train Concert at Millennium Park on Labor Day (vinoconvistablog.wordpress.com)