It is entirely possible that you did not know. Conjurers are rarely still aware of the ripples their handiwork incites, years after they uncork the lightning in their bottles. The world looks different now, like a dystopia that displaces its elders, like a nether region that edges brothers like you right on out of the game.
Your mansion, cold and underinhabited, may’ve felt like an ice floe.
We will never know.
But we are sure that it would’ve taken more than reassurance of your relevance to keep you here. If all you had needed were confirmations of your impact, you could’ve slipped into the back of any black wedding reception or family reunion, could’ve glanced in the general direction of a public school dance troupe, could’ve listened to the hooks in any number of hip-hop songs, keened your ear to the affected baritone of brothers who’d give anything to sound as effortlessly smooth as you. You needn’t have even left your home; there is Centric. There are the chanteuses and crooners who are your contemporaries, still rockin’ steady, still beautifully wooing, still owing you a world they would never have known if you hadn’t created it. There are Crooklyn‘s closing credits. There is the devastated, ever-lovingly devoted ?uestlove.
There are the voices of our parents whenever they talk about how “baaaad” the Soul Train dancers were, their tones still crackling with energy of yore, as they add, “I coulda been one of them, man,” or “I thought I was one.”
You see? It didn’t end with them. What you built was no sprint; this is a relay. Our parents bore your baton. And though your passing may cause the slightest quaver, the most momentary stumble, we hold it now.
We know the dissonance between the generations. We know your era questions whether ours knows the true meaning of “good music,” or worse, whether we are capable of creating it at all.
You needn’t worry. We understand your labor. We know it has given us opportunities we’ve both cherished and squandered. We realize we would never have had the artistic community, the mainstream exposure, and the simple, undiluted fun we now freely enjoy in musical performance and appreciation were it not for you.
Soul Train was a space for us to shuffle off the coil of code-switching. There, our legends didn’t have to perform for audiences who regarded them as little more than organ-grinders. And our young men had a space where dancing could be un-self-conscious, could have grace and power and coolness and aggression, could escape the stigma of effeminacy. Our young ladies could explore their fashion sense, draping themselves in hood couture, half-shirts and high-waisted pants and maxidresses, while angling their arms, legs, hips and torsos in ways reminiscent of Ernie Barnes’ art.
We understood you, Mr. Cornelius, with few exceptions—until now. As a culture, we still struggle to reconcile suicide. It distances us in ways other deaths tend not to, and when the act is committed by a recluse like yourself, it’s even more bewildering.
But we can love without fully understanding. And we can mourn all that we’ve lost in you, apart from longing to know the mysteries that led you to leave us.
As always, in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul.