An authoritative history of the groundbreaking syndicated television show that has become an icon of American pop culture, from acclaimed author and filmmaker Nelson George, “the most accomplished black music critic of his generation” (Washington Post Book World).
When it debuted in October 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 radio announcer Don Cornelius, the show’s producer and host, Soul Train 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.
The Hippest Trip in America tells the full story of this pop culture phenomenon that appealed not only to blacks, 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.
The iconic music-and-dance television show that defined the look and moves of Black America gets a fond though unfocused retrospective in this nostalgic history. Music historian George (The Death of Rhythm and Blues) recounts Soul Train's run as a pioneering showcase for African-American music and pop culture, recalling the bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and planetary afros of its 1970s heyday, the on-set drama of ambitious young dancers jostling for camera time, and the show's centrality in the hood as a Saturday tele-ritual that inspired fashion and dance floor trends. The story loses steam as it chugs into the 1980s and 1990s, when crossover acts abandoned the show for whiter audiences, viewers departed for music-video channels, and producer/host Don Cornelius, once the epitome of cool with his elegant suits and suave baritone, fell behind the times in his estrangement from the hip-hop scene. George relies heavily on interviews from the eponymous VH1 documentary; some of these reminiscences, like Rosie Perez's exuberant recollection of dancing, are a hoot, but the narrative stalls during lengthy monologues, including four solid pages of Cornelius's congressional testimony against gangsta rap. Still, George captures some of the energy and creativity of black youth cult busting out of the ghetto. Photos.
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The hippest trip in America
I enjoyed this read. Being an old soul train fan, I learned a lot. Cool behind the scenes stuff. I recommend it to anyone. Nelson George always does good work.