A pair of pioneers

Dick Clark, Don Cornelius brought music, dancing to millions

Those that believe in cosmic forces have to think this was all planned out in advance.

On the first day of February, Don Cornelius was found dead in his home, believed to be suicide. Exactly 11 weeks later, Dick Clark also passed away, the cause a heart attack.

Just ponder that notion - two men, both with the initials of DC, both of them television pioneers who made their main name hosting programs where, essentially, young men and women danced to the hottest tunes of the times. And both of them are now gone, their like never to be seen again.

With Dick Clark, of course, the story goes beyond that, with his ventures into game shows, award shows, blooper shows, a movie or two, and that moment every Dec. 31 in Times Square where one year ended and another began.

Yet there’s no question that Clark’s primary cultural impact was on that modest little dance program called “Bandstand” he took over at Philadelphia’s WFIL not long after his days at Syracuse University.

By 1957, they had put “American” in front of “Bandstand”, and the show had gone national on ABC. You know the rest. Every star from Elvis to Madonna, with hundreds in between, made their name, or built on it, by appearing on Clark’s pride and joy.

Barely a decade later, a Chicago TV and radio commentator named Don Cornelius used $400 of his own money to produce and host, for WCIU, a pilot of a program based on “American Bandstand”, but targeted for African-American audience. He called it “Soul Train”.

That show moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and went national, in syndication. Almost overnight, it became the place for black musical performers to stop, and it remained true for more than three decades. Even the dancers who brought it every week on that signature “Soul Train” line got famous.

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