Don Cornelius was much more to me than an icon. He was my friend and mentor, and if I could have one last chance to speak to him, this is what I would say:
Don, I miss you already. And I wish that I'd told you recently how much I have treasured all that you taught me. So, I'll do my best to share some heartfelt thoughts with you now. I've learned many things from you, but there are three specific things that I'll never forget and for which I'm eternally thankful:
1) Treat people with respect and dignity.
When we met for the first time I was a 27 year-old recent graduate. I was in my first job after business school at The Coca-Cola Company and we happened to be a major partner with The Soul Train Music Awards show. I didn't know squat about branding partnerships at that time, as you were well aware. Still, you treated me with respect and dignity, just as I witnessed you do in every interaction with others. You took the time to teach me how great brands are built one brick at a time. You didn't have to. It wasn't your job to school me. But that was who you were. Even during some of our most intense negotiation sessions, you still treated us all with respect and dignity. You chose to teach a young whipper snapper, and I did my best to absorb every word and lesson.
Thanks to your vision, Soul Train created a televised a platform upon which people could, and ultimately would, have their immense talent treated with respect and dignity within the mainstream. This was a significant step forward for our culture, and so much more influential than any dance step down the famed Soul Train line.
2) Be bold and the universe will support you...or get out of your way.
If you happened to launch a TV show today and it were to be on air for 35 consecutive years, it would be considered a rare and smashing success. The fact that you launched Soul Train in 1971 and now hold the honor of the longest running (continuous first-run) syndicated program in television history is ridiculously genius.Your level of success is mind-altering.
As I watched you work with record label heads, cable network heads and music stars alike, it was clear to me that your boldness and belief in what you were building with the Soul Train brand made people want to either support you or get out of your way. This was a powerful lesson.
3) Never make your move to soon.
You once gave me one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever heard. I was seeking your guidance about a career decision when you began to sing an old BB King song. I was perplexed until you reached the hook. Then you said, "Kid, never make your move too soon!" You went on to explain the value of timing when making any major decision. Point made, point taken. I was curious and found the lyrics to this song insightful.
I've been from Spain to Tokyo/From Africa to Ohio/I never tried to make the news/I'm just a man who plays the blues/I take my lovin' everywhere/I come back, you know they still all care/One love ahead and one behind/One in my arms you know, one on my mind/And it's one thing people/I never make my move too soon...
I remember when I saw you in New Orleans right after one of your best friends, the incomparable Barry White, passed away. It was the first time I'd ever seen you sad. Today, there are millions of people saddened by your passing Don. Yet, we are inspired by the legacy and blueprint that you've left us.
A friend of mine forwarded me an email about the sad news. His response was, "Don Cornelius is the Steve Jobs of good music."
I'd like to add that Steve Jobs was to Apple what Don Cornelius was to Soul Train.
May you both rest in peace.
With respect, dignity and love,