To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking "hippest trip in America," producers have announced that a musical inspired by the dance show Soul Train will be coming to Broadway in 2021, with a superstar creative team.
The show's playwright is Dominique Morrisseau, the MacArthur Genius Grant-winner who was just nominated for a Tony for writing the Broadway hit Ain't Too Proud To Beg, about the Temptations, while Kamilah Forbes, executive producer of the Apollo Theater, will direct and Camille A. Brown, nominated for a Tony with her work in Choir Boy, will choreograph. Expect a lot of amazing moves!
"We’re thrilled that our extensive search for the best creative minds for Soul Train has yielded some of the finest talent in their fields, whether that be storytelling, dance, music, or direction. That this process also led us to a historic first — having African American female artists as the creative core of a Broadway musical — only makes us more excited about the journey," said Matthew Weaver, Jeffrey Tick, and Richard Gay, the producing partners, in a joint statement. "Don Cornelius created a television show that became a cornerstone in American Culture and we are so humbled and honored to be bringing it to the stage with their brilliant vision."
According to a press release, "Through more than 20 classic hit songs from the era, the musical tells the personal story of Cornelius as he creates the iconic television series."
“Having grown up on this series and being immersed in the culture around it, I never knew what it took to make it the iconic staple that it is," Morriseau said. "Through the socio-political challenges both internally and externally, Don Cornelius’ uncompromised vision, and the revolutionary dance culture that the show made visible to the mainstream, there are a million handprints on what we know as Soul Train."
Cornelius was a disc jockey in Chicago when he made the Soul Train pilot with his own money. He told the NY Times that it "was developed as a radio show on television. It was the radio show that I always wanted and never had. I selected the music, and still do, by simply seeing what had chart success."
The show aired from 1971 through 2006, giving a spotlight to black performers, like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Barry White. Cornelius died in 2012, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His son, Tony Cornelius, who is an executive producer of the musical, said, "With many years of experience working directly with my father, I’m forever grateful and deeply humbled by the impact Soul Train has had on the culture at large both here and abroad. For 37 years, and with purpose, through music, dance and style, Soul Train brought Love, Peace & Soul to a national audience. This positive representation is extremely satisfying and marks its 50th Anniversary. Honoring his accomplishments, creative vision and legacy with a Broadway musical only emphasizes the impact Soul Train has had on our American fabric.”
Nelson George, who wrote a book about the show called, The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style, explained in a 2014 interview, "Soul Train was the only black TV show period when it started. There were no national venues for black music — BET didn't start until the 80s—so it was the showcase for black talent. If you were a band, you couldn't get on American Bandstand unless you had a pop hit. There were so many bands that gained their national exposure on Soul Train. If you were a young black person, Soul Train was the first time you saw your culture on TV in a celebratory mode. And the show created a lot of fans for black music—people saw bumps in their record sales after going on the show."
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who wrote his own book, Soul Train: The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation, is another one of the executive producers, along with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker, and Live Nation Urban president Shawn Gee.