Tonight on VH1 book a seat on Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America for a bumpin’ ride down memory lane, and a lesson in the program’s historical and cultural significance. However, you might find yourself unable to stay seated as you travel through a soulful music history. Soul Train through the ages has been a source of fashion and style inspiration, a lesson in the latest dance moves and a showcase for the hottest musical talent. Soul Train was the last in the line-up of must-see Saturday morning programming (after the all-important 4-5 hours of Saturday morning cartoons) and was a catalyst for creating careers for those who wanted to break into the entertainment industry. Narrated by Oscar nominated Actor Terrence Howard and scored by Questlove from The Roots, Don Cornelius, the creator of Soul Train and living legends like Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone to John Legend and Chrisette Michelle, who found inspiration in the show, contributed to the making of this documentary. We caught up with Associate Producer Dana Gills for a chat on her journey through the musical ages with a few of Soul Train’s legends.
Clutch: What can we expect this evening on Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America?
Dana: The documentary covers how Don Cornelius created this platform for so many different people and its impact on Black culture from fashion, politics and hair, to bridging different cultures together. When Don created Soul Train, there were no other platforms for Black music artists in the 70’s. Soul Train was the first. It’s an awesome brand, and I’m glad it’s being paid its due.
Clutch: Were you able to get an interview with Don Cornelius?
Dana: Yes. He was our first interview. He discussed with us his mission behind creating the show, and Soul Train over the years.
Clutch: I can remember a few regulars on the show every weekend. Did you actually get a chance to talk with any of the famous Soul Train Dancers?
Dana: We did! We talked to a lot of the dancers and one of my favorites was Jody Watley. She was probably one of the biggest Soul Train dancers in terms of later success. She went on to become a model and recording artist. Don really took her under his wing and recognized her talent as a Soul Train dancer.
Clutch: It sounds like the historical significance of this show really runs deep and in many different directions.
Dana: The documentary really provides a vehicle for Soul Train to finally receive its due. It helps to immortalize the brand and reintroduces Soul Train to the people who grew-up on it, and to the newer generations. We interviewed a lot of artists that have appeared on the show from Teddy Pendergrass to Snoop. Soul Train was an opportunity for producers, camera operators, talent bookers and many others. It provided a way for Blacks to get their foot in the entertainment door. And, before Soul Train, there weren’t any ads directly targeted at Black people. Soul Train introduced that. The show has made such a huge impact in many categories, and this is the first time it has been explored historically.
Clutch: Can you provide us with any fun facts or “wow” moments you’ve had while filming the documentary?
Dana: Going to Joe Jackson’s house and begging him to convince Michael Jackson to grant us an interview was memorable. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Also, Rosie Perez actually told us that Don would tell her to tone down her moves. In addition to that the Soul Train dancers were coming in for interviews and showing us moves. Both Louie Carr and The Lockers insisted thay we play music after their interviews so they could teach us some of their signature moves.
Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America airs on VH1 Saturday, February 6 at 9:30 pm. You’ll also be able to catch throughout Black History Month on BET and Centric.