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THE HIPPEST TRIP IN AMERICA by Nelson George Kirkus Star


Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style

by Nelson George

Pub Date: April 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-222103-2
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Put on your dancing shoes, and get funky with this romp through the history of a cultural touchstone.

George (Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson, 2010, etc.) points out that when the music-and-dance show Soul Train premiered in 1970 on a local Chicago TV station, the “landscape of black images on television and in film…was pretty barren.” Was the country in need of such an entity? Perhaps not, but sometimes the country doesn't realize what it needs until it's available. Enter Don Cornelius, an opportunistic, passionate DJ who figured out that Americans (or at least a healthy percentage of them) were ready for a black version of American Bandstand, a show where up-and-coming soul and R&B artists could perform their latest hits. The affable Cornelius was right, and soon enough, Soul Train was a national phenomenon (even though it tailed off in importance before it ended in 2006), certainly an entity that, four decades later, is worthy of a serious re-examination from a serious writer. Those familiar with the prolific George’s work might be surprised that a writer known for his serious studies of African-American culture would tackle a subject that's so flat-out fun, but his palpable love for the show makes it obvious that this is a passion project, a topic that gave him the opportunity to relive one of the joys of his youth. George's approach—and mix of narrative and oral history—is the ideal way to tackle the topic, since the combination of voices allows readers to feel and enjoy the love, the peace and the hair grease. The author chronicles his interviews with the performers, but most importantly, he got Cornelius on tape before he died in 2012.

George's in-depth look at a revered TV show is one of those rare music-centric books that will transcend its subject's core fan base. Even those with just a casual interest in Soul Train will be happy to take this trip.