Earlier today, it was announced that BET has officially acquired the the legendary Soul Train franchise. Although financial details have not yet been disclosed, BET acquired the franchise from InterMedia Partners and Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies.
The deal includes more than 1,000 vintage episodes from the music and dance show that aired from 1971 through 2006. BET has aired the Soul Train Awards since 2009 and has aired older episodes of the show on BET and Centric in the past. Ownership of the Soul Train brand would allow BET to strengthen its original programming and expand to Broadway and concert tours, according to BET’s executive vice president of strategy and operations, Richard Gay.
Using $400 of his own money, Don Cornelius created a pilot for Soul Train, which was named after a promotional event he put together in 1969. The Chicago native originally started in the insurance business as a salesman in the 1950’s. In 1966, he would go on to broadcasting school and eventually land an opportunity with WVON Radio in Chicago. Shortly after, he would become a sports anchor and the host of A Black’s View of the News on WCIU in 1968. It was here that he would become inspired by American Bandstand and create Soul Train.
Soul Train premiered on August 17, 1970 airing on Saturday mornings. The show featured the likes of Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight amongst many others. In 1987, Cornelius would expand to add the Soul Train Awards, with its first ever hosts being Luther Vandross and Dione Warnick. By 2005, Soul Train was being seen in 105 cities, reaching an estimated 85 percent of black households, according to the show’s website.
BET’s recent acquisition of the franchise is certainly great for Black culture, but it will certainly take some time and lots of hard work to revive the brand. Whether or not it will ever reach the same status it once was during the 70’s-90’s is something only time will tell.
BET Networks is a division of Viacom