My chance encounter with Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius

I have been very fortunate to have traveled, met with, and hung out with people from Janis Joplin to Hugh Hefner to Frank Valli.The list is long.

One evening in 1975, I met Don after my gig at the Chicago Playboy Club. This tall man, with a big afro walked over to me. He was instantly recognizable and started a conversation.

Not a typical pick up line… I’ve heard a few. I was with some of the guys from my band Commonwealth, so it was more of a “Are you with anyone?” I explained that we were a house band at Playboy and I knew who he was.

chicago-pizzaWe didn’t dance, I am not a drinker. I seem to remember he wasn’t a drinker, either. We sat and listened to the music, and we clicked a little.

Don and I stayed for hours. In those days, one stayed out all night, slept all day, and then went to work in the evening. We were hungry and he said, “I know the best deep-dish pizza place and it’s open all night.” I felt safe with Don and told my band mates where I was going.

We went to this crazy crowded pizza place, and ate until we were in pain! Don and I talked about Soul Train moving to Los Angeles, but he considered Chicago home so kept a penthouse apartment. He asked if I would like to see it before I went to my hotel. I said “Yes, of course I would love too.”

We didn’t have a chemistry of that sort where he was going to try anything with me. We just visited the penthouse apartment, and enjoyed the spectacular view. I remember the furniture like it was yesterday. It  was white and beige, and immaculate.

chicago-at-nightAs I started to tire, he said, “You are welcome to stay or I will take you home.” I said I should go home, as the band had a whole night ahead of shows at the club. He drove me back, kissed me on the cheek, very sweetly, and I asked him to try to come and see us.

I have never forgotten my one night of intelligent, lovely, conversation with this entertainment icon. To hear of his suicide, today, was both sad and shocking.

I am one of the lucky ones. I spent a lovely night in Chicago with this fabulous, interesting, and soft-spoken man.

Rest In Peace Sweet Don. I will never forget your kindness, your manners, and your role in American musical history. Bringing Soul Train, its guest performers, the Soul Train Dancers and the Scramble Board had a tremendous impact on a generation… and then some.

Love, Peace & Soul!

Jessica Marciel
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