Don Cornelius - Soul Train

In 2012, it was announced that there was renewed interest in exploiting the Soul Train franchise – likely thanks in some part, at the time, to Don Cornelius’ death (February 1, 2012).

The news then was that Soul Train Holdings was working with WME to find ways to exploit and grow the brand, which would include a film, a stage musical AND a TV show.

Certainly we want to proceed in a way that will highlight the contribution of Don to the creation of the brand and its subsequent impact on American culture,” said Kenard Gibbs, CEO of Soul Train Holdings.

However, there were some rights issues that they’d have to deal with, notably the music used in each episode of the series. But they were confident that wouldn’t be a problem.

Things seemed to be in motion again, when it was announced many months later (still in 2012) that Earvin MagicJohnson and his business partners bought the rights to the Soul Train franchise for “several million dollars,” and were planning a musical based on the life of Don Cornelius.

The musical, which was aimed towards Broadway, was to focus on the once mega-hit variety show.

After a year-and-a-half of silence, today brings news that Matthew Weaver (producer of Rock of Ages) has now acquired theatrical rights to the long-running Soul Train franchise, from Earvin “Magic” Johnson, with plans to develop into a Broadway musical. 

“Don Cornelius created a television show that became a cornerstone in American culture and I am excited and honored to be bringing it to the stage,” said Weaver. “We are putting together a top-notch team of artists to ensure Soul Train is the hippest trip on Broadway.” 

“Soul Train has made a significant impact on American music and pop culture and its legacy and appeal continue to resonate around the world,” added Johnson. “Creating a live theatrical interpretation of this iconic franchise is an opportunity that could not be missed.” 

No word on what Broadway season the project is aimed to debut.

It comes at a time when musicals on Broadway based on the lives and works of black public personalities are popular – you’ll recall that there’s also a Broadway production based on the life and times of Berry Gordy titled Motown: The Musical, which features music hits from the likes of Diana Ross and the SupremesStevie WonderMarvin Gaye and Michael Jackson, among others. 

There’s also the acclaimed production of Cotton Club Parade on Broadway, with a new name: After Midnight, which launched with Fantasia Barrino, and has since featured Toni Braxton and Vanessa WilliamsDulé Hill also features as “The Host” of the evening, in a cast of some 25 singers and dancers and a roster of Special Guest Star headliners. The show is described as a Broadway-style revue that recreates Duke Ellington’s years at the famed Harlem nightclub in the 1920s and ’30s, when the joint was jumping with shows featuring big band swing and blues.

And then there’s Audra McDonald playing Billie Holiday in a production of Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, which features the versatile, multi-Tony Award winning actress star in the show, which is set in 1959 in a seedy Philadelphia bar, and relives Billie Holiday’s last performance, taking place only four months before her death at age 44. 

And finally, coming later this year, there’s Kenny Leon’s Tupac-inspired musical, titled Holler If Ya Hear Me (the title of a track from 2Pac’s second solo album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.), which take audiences inside the world created in Tupac Shakur’s music and lyrics, in a non-biographical story about friendship, family, revenge, change and hope.