The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style [NOOK Book]


"We wish you love, peace . . . and soul!"

When it debuted in October 1971, Soul Train boldly went where no variety show had gone before, showcasing the cultural preferences of young African Americans and the fashions and sounds that defined their lives: R&B, funk, jazz, disco, and gospel music. The brainchild of radio announcer Don Cornelius, who was the show's producer and host for decades, Soul Train featured a diverse range of stars, from James Brown and David Bowie to Gladys Knight and R. Kelly; from ...

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The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style

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"We wish you love, peace . . . and soul!"

When it debuted in October 1971, Soul Train boldly went where no variety show had gone before, showcasing the cultural preferences of young African Americans and the fashions and sounds that defined their lives: R&B, funk, jazz, disco, and gospel music. The brainchild of radio announcer Don Cornelius, who was the show's producer and host for decades, Soul Train featured a diverse range of stars, from James Brown and David Bowie to Gladys Knight and R. Kelly; from Marvin Gaye and Elton John to the New Kids on the Block, Stevie Wonder, and the Beastie Boys.

From acclaimed author and filmmaker Nelson George ("the most accomplished black music critic of his generation"—Washington Post Book World), The Hippest Trip in America tells the full story of this legendary pop-culture phenomenon. A landmark program in black music and culture, Soul Train, which premiered just seven years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, presented a positive image of black America—for black America—and became destination television every Saturday. It also enjoyed a wide crossover audience, and for years served as a cultural nexus for the entire nation. Famous dancers like Rosie Perez and Jody Watley, performers such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Barry White, and Don Cornelius himself all share their memories, offering insights into the show and its time—a period of extraordinary social and political change.

As pulsating and colorful as the show itself, The Hippest Trip in America is a vivid and vital portrait of a revered cultural institution—the longest-running syndicated program in television history—that has left an indelible mark on our national consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In 1971, when WCIU hired Chicago disc jockey Don Cornelius to bring his traveling record hop caravan to television, no one imagined that over the next 35 years Soul Train would change the face of American pop culture. From its inauspicious beginnings, this low-budget African American variety show quickly attracted a large crossover audience and national sponsors. As music critic Nelson George notes, the reasons are almost self-evident: The dancing was original and appealing, and with guests like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder, the show opened new vistas for millions of viewers. With narrative, insights, and interviews, George's The Hippest Trip in America places this path-finding show within the contexts of its time.

The New York Times Book Review - Rosemary Bray McNatt
…George writes with the ease and credibility of a critic and journalist…[He] is at his best in uncovering hidden details of the politics and deal making that made Cornelius an early and unsung entrepreneur of black culture, as important as Berry Gordy…The combination of…cultural and political stories…makes The Hippest Trip in America the definitive book on Soul Train.
Publishers Weekly
The iconic music-and-dance television show that defined the look and moves of Black America gets a fond though unfocused retrospective in this nostalgic history. Music historian George (The Death of Rhythm and Blues) recounts Soul Train’s run as a pioneering showcase for African-American music and pop culture, recalling the bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and planetary afros of its 1970s heyday, the on-set drama of ambitious young dancers jostling for camera time, and the show’s centrality in the ‘hood as a Saturday tele-ritual that inspired fashion and dance floor trends. The story loses steam as it chugs into the 1980s and 1990s, when crossover acts abandoned the show for whiter audiences, viewers departed for music-video channels, and producer/host Don Cornelius, once the epitome of cool with his elegant suits and suave baritone, fell behind the times in his estrangement from the hip-hop scene. George relies heavily on interviews from the eponymous VH1 documentary; some of these reminiscences, like Rosie Perez’s exuberant recollection of dancing, are a hoot, but the narrative stalls during lengthy monologues, including four solid pages of Cornelius’s congressional testimony against gangsta rap. Still, George captures some of the energy and creativity of black youth cult busting out of the ghetto. Photos. (March 25)
“A kaleidoscopic trip through one of the brightest zones in the evolution of American culture.”
New York Times Book Review
“The definitive book on ‘Soul Train’”
Andrea Battleground
“George is one of the best music writers around… he crafts a compelling narrative.”
“A loving history.”
“An engaging read for those wanting to understand more clearly why Soul Train is such a monumental part of popular-music history.”
USA Today
“30 years of rapier-keen social history and street-savvy cultural criticism.”
New York Daily News
“George’s book does a great job of assessing the sociological, stylistic and economic power of ‘Soul Train.’”
Library Journal
George, the author of several key black music histories (e.g., Where Did Our Love Go?), here tells the story of the groundbreaking variety show Soul Train, launched in 1971 and aimed at young African Americans. With a 75,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-06
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062221056
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/25/2014
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 212,893
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Nelson George

Nelson George is an author and filmmaker who specializes in documenting and celebrating African American culture. He has written several classic black music histories, including Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound, The Death of Rhythm & Blues, and Hip Hop America. He also coedited The James Brown Reader: 50 Years of Writing About the Godfather of Soul. His most recent novel is The Plot Against Hip Hop. He has also contributed major articles on the films The Help, Pariah, and 12 Years a Slave to the New York Times. George directed the HBO film Life Support as well as the VH1 documentary Finding the Funk.

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