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Donald Cortez Cornelius was born Sept. 27, 1936, in Chicago, graduated from DuSable High School in 1954 and served in Korea with the U.S. Marines.

He was working as an insurance salesman when he spent $400 on a broadcasting course and landed a part-time job in 1966 as announcer, newsman and DJ on WVON radio. Cornelius began moonlighting at WCIU-TV when Roy Wood, his mentor at WVON, moved there, and won a job producing and hosting a local show, “A Black’s View of the News.”

With the small station looking to expand its “ethnic” programming, Cornelius pitched his idea for a black music show, and “Soul Train” was born.

Asked why it endured, he told the Times in 1995: “There is an inner craving among us all, within us all, for television that we can personally connect to.”

Cornelius stepped down as “Soul Train” host in 1993. The awards returned to the air in 2009 after a two-year hiatus. After owning “Soul Train” for its entire run, Cornelius sold the show to MadVision Entertainment in 2008. Last year’s awards were held on Nov. 27 in Atlanta, with Earth Wind & Fire receiving the “Legend Award.”

Cornelius had two children, Anthony and Raymond, with his first wife, Delores Harrison. His eight-year marriage to Viktoria Chapman, a former Miss Ukraine, ended in divorce in July 2009 after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery and was ordered to attend a yearlong domestic violence course.

In his divorce case, he also mentioned having significant health issues.


Moody reported from New York. Associated Press writers Robert Jablon, Anthony McCartney, Lynn Elber and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.