(The Dap Kings homage to Soul Train)
Don Cornelius, the boffo baritone boss of Soul Train, died by his own hand yesterday.
Back in the day, I always enjoyed Soul Train. It was dumb fun, the best kind, and it always had the musicians I wanted to see perform. Guys like Cornelius seem inconsequential when you see them for a few awkward moments worrying a tepid response from an entertainer with a vacuous question, but of course his job wasn't to form penetrating questions and elicit deep responses. It was to be a tastemaker, a style setter, a host -- an impresario.
An impresario (from Italian: impresa, meaning "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas; analogous to a film producer in filmmaking, television production and an angel investor in business. The origin of the term is to be found in the social and economic world of Italian opera, where from the mid-18th century to the 1830s, the impresario was the key figure in the organization of a lyric season. The owners of the theatre, usually noble amateurs, charged the impresario with hiring a composer, for until the 1850s operas on stage were expected to be new, as well as gathering the necessary costumes, sets, orchestra, and singers, all while assuming considerable financial risks. In 1786 Mozart satirized the stress and emotional mayhem in a single-act farce Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario). Antonio Vivaldi was unusual in acting as impresario as well as composer: in 1714 he managed seasons at Teatro Sant'Angelo in Venice, where his opera Orlando finto pazzo was followed by numerous others.My readers might be amused to hear me compare him to Ed Sullivan, but they were very much alike. Someone had to get the Beatles' manager on the phone. Someone had to put up the money to put the Beatles on TV. Someone had to know whether it's worth it to put the Beatles on the TV instead of Gerry and the Pacemakers.
Many impresarios went bankrupt, some more than once; thus, a mercantile background and a gambler's instincts were useful. Alessandro Lanari (1787–1852) began as the owner of a shop that produced costumes, eliminating the middleman in a series of successful seasons he produced for the Teatro La Pergola, Florence, which saw premieres of the first version of Verdi's Macbeth, two of Bellini's operas and five of Donizetti's, including Lucia di Lammermoor. Domenico Barbaia (1778–1841) began as a café waiter and made a fortune at La Scala in Milan, where he was also in charge of the gambling operation and introduced roulette. Wikipedia
Don Cornelius did the same sort of thing; he got on the horn and got James Brown and The Staples Singers and Al Green and Honey Cone and, well, look at the list.
Goodbye, Don. It was a wonderful "enterprise or undertaking."
Not going anywhere for a while?