Before the death of Don Cornelius stirred pangs of "Soul Train" nostalgia in the American public, a group of black entrepreneurs already had begun working to revive Cornelius' creation and carry it beyond line dances at parties and television reruns.
What, exactly, can be done with "Soul Train," given that it lasted nearly four decades and is considered an American institution, even though there hasn't been a new episode in six years? Will the soul of "Soul Train" carry on, or drift into history?
Soul Train Holdings LLC, the entity created by NBA legend and entrepreneur Earvin "Magic" Johnson when he bought the "Soul Train" library and brand last year, has a lot of ideas. Among them are bringing a "Soul Train" variety show back to television, CEO Kenard Gibbs told the Associated Press. There have been discussions with writers about taking "Soul Train" to Broadway, Gibbs said, and also in the works are film opportunities, potential book deals and, in 2013, the first "Soul Train" cruise.
"The brand itself, we believe, has far, far other entertainment-based tentacles we can stretch," Gibbs said.
During a memorial for Cornelius in Los Angeles, Johnson assured Cornelius' son Tony, "The brand that your father has created will last a lifetime."
Black Entertainment Network LLC, BET, and Centric TV, a BET Network, also has rights to the Soul Train brand and name, and have revamped the Soul Train Awards, which have aired on BET Networks since 2009.
Baxter said the show has held its own and plans are under way for a tribute to Cornelius for this year's show, planned for broadcast Nov. 25, on BET and Centric.
There are some 1,100 hours of "Soul Train" episodes and specials, many of which have only aired once on television. Some are posted on the "Soul Train" website, reminding viewers of celebrities' past lives.
There is no shortchanging the impact that "Soul Train" still has today. "Soul Train" lines -- some impromptu, some organized -- popped up around the country in honor of Cornelius after his death Feb. 1. Well before Cornelius died, they even found their way into movies such as Spike Lee's "Crooklyn" in 1994 and the family holiday story "This Christmas" in 2007.
The success of "Soul Train" got many others in the game, some that had far more resources to devote to the programming, said Marc Lamont Hill, associate professor of education at Columbia University and an expert on the hip-hop generation. "Soul Train" had to compete with video shows on BET that broadcast black artists, and eventually MTV and VH-1. A plethora of awards shows, including the BET Awards, also provide competition.
Now, Hill said, the entertainment culture has shifted, where shows featuring black culture are no longer owned solely by African-Americans, he said.
Gibbs acknowledged that it is not easy to continue a television show's brand beyond its lifetime on television -- and there are few shows that have. But he said he's certain it can happen for "Soul Train."
"I think that dance, fashion and music, the best of music, are really the tent poles for 'Soul Train' going forward. I believe those things are enduring just as the ideas and ideals of love, peace and soul are enduring," Gibbs said.
Whatever the future of the show and its progeny, black independent media -- what was the "germ" of "Soul Train" -- are increasing their foothold in American mainstream culture, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American Studies at Duke University. Radio show producers Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden and Issa Rae, creator of the Web-produced show "The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl" are carrying on the "Soul Train" legacy and "all benefiting from something Don Cornelius set in motion with Soul Train," Neal said.
"When all is said and done, he wanted to be able to present black acts on television on what he saw as its most organic context," Neal said about Cornelius. "He understood correctly there was an interest for that well beyond black communities."