The mere fact that our very own Walter “Sweetness” Payton participated in the dance line drives home the point that Soul Train is another true Chicago original. And this show was no slouch in the ratings department either. Soul Train was on the air from 1971 until 2006, making it the longest running, nationally syndicated program in television history!
Soul Train’s origins can be traced back to 1965 and WCIU television. This fledgling UHF station was making its mark with younger viewers via the shows Kiddie-a-Go-Go and Red Hot and Blue. The latter program featured a group of predominately African-American studio dancers, which would set the stage for the Soul Train concept in years to come.
But the driving force behind the Soul Train phenomena was its host, Don Cornelius. Before the program hit the airwaves, he was a newsreader and back-up disc jockey for the Chicago urban radio station, WVON. He also promoted traveling dance shows called “The Soul Train” on the side. WCIU took notice of the enterprising Cornelius and offered him the opportunity to bring his road show to television.
Before going national in 1971, Soul Train made its debut on WCIU on August 17, 1970. The show’s first guests were Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites, and the Emotions.
Jumping back to the present day, you’ll find Butler, the Chi-Lites, the Emotions, and Gene Chandler all taking part in a free concert at Millennium Park honoring Don Cornelius and Soul Train’s 40-year history. The concert takes place on Monday, September 5th beginning at 6:30 pm. The concert is funded by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, in partnership with the Chicago Office of Tourism. In a unique tie-in, the Soul Train event is also made possible in part, through Amtrak, which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The free concert provides an exclamation point to the final week of the Soul Train Photo Exhibition and the Friday Night Groove events at Expo 72. Here’s some more information on these free events:
Soul Train Photo Exhibition
72 E. Randolph, Chicago, IL
This first-ever Soul Train Photo exhibition features images of some of the musical icons that performed on the show including Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Chuck Berry, and more. Photographs were selected from over 300,000 never-before-seen archival shots from the Soul Train set. This free exhibit closes on Monday, September 5th.
Friday night attendees can participate in the Friday Night Groove with Chic-A-Go-Go that will recreate the days of Soul Train complete disco balls, dance lines, and more. Drawing from legendary dance programs like Soul Train and American Bandstand, as well as Chicago’s own 1960s shows like Kiddie-A-Go-Go and Red Hot and Blue, Chic-a-Go-Go promised to “ combine classic TV entertainment with an original whimsical style.”
The hours for the Soul Train Exhibition are Friday: 8am-8pm; Saturday: 9am-6pm; Sunday: 10am-6pm and Monday: 10am-4pm.