Monday, February 6, 2012

Soul Train Line Was More Than a Dance

Photographs courtesy of Brett Chambers

The radio station back home didn’t play soul music when I was a kid. I only listened to the radio when I wanted to listen to Jack Buck do play by play of the St. Louis Cardinals during baseball season. I kept score sheets to keep pace with my favorite players from my favorite team: Lou Brock, Bake McBride, Kurt Floyd and Bob Gibson.

It wasn’t until I visited my aunt on Garfield Avenue in St. Louis that I caught a fever for the music I love so much. My father played it during the weekends with a shot glass and a bottle of vodka nearby to soak the burden of the week away. I knew about soul music, but that day elevated my appreciation for the sound that was beginning to change the tunes on the airwaves.

It was Saturday morning, and a dude with a tight afro introduced that cat name Al Green. I was captivated by his deep voice. What followed shifted my disillusionment into pride. I watched as All Green merged funk with old time revival while singing “Let’s Stay Together.” I felt something that fueled an interest in the moves and the music that made me feel like what James Brown screamed in that song – “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Pride took hold that day. I giggled as my play girlfriend, Jodie Whatley, strutted down the soul train line. I found reason, in that moment, to connect to the amazing culture witnessed on the tube. I wanted to board the Soul Train and take a ride to black pride.

It’s the reason I organized a Soul Train line on Saturday evening. I had to find a way to thank Don Cornelius for placing a mirror before me and forcing me to view the beauty on my black face. He gave me reason to embrace my black moves and to allow my black hair to grow naturally. He gave me reason not to put chemicals in my hair to transform my nappy into something closer to white folk’s hair.

I found comfort in the banging of a bass followed by the snap of a snare drum. Yes, I wanted to take a trip to funky town, and I didn’t want to go back to that place that said there was something wrong with me. My life hasn’t been the same since that day back in 1972..

So, about 50 people showed up after I announced we would boogie oogie oogie near the big bull in downtown Durham. We gathered after 32 hours noticed. We communicated via facebook and Twitter. My son, King Kenney, and Mike set up the 1’s and 2’s and took us all to a place that forced bodies to move and memories to resurrect. We danced in the dark. We moved in the cold and rain. We strutted down that Soul Train line over and over again. Some bumped their way down. A few played the running man and robot. The old Kid N’ Play dance made an appearance.

Our gathering reflected more than a love affair with movement. This was no party reserved for black folks only. Our gathering proved the Don’s appeal beyond the nation’s soul brothers and sisters. White folks showed up. Reverend Ginny took time away from sermon preparation to strut down the line. Image this, a black male preacher danced with a white female preacher down the Soul Train line on a Saturday night. That was truly a Holy dance.

I wish more could have made it. Those who came witnessed one of those rare moments were memory is transcended beyond past comprehension. What was known takes on new meaning. What was felt is observed as the witness of a shielded truth. This man meant more than what we knew. Soul Train was more than a television show. It brought cultures divided together by a brand kept separated by skin tones. It healed wounds caused by division and challenged us to put our feet ahead of our indifference.

We danced for 30 minutes. Then the train came and took us home. Toot the whistle Don. Love, peace and soul!

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