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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has acquired a variety of set props and artifacts from the legendary Soul Train franchise.
In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Soul Train has donated a collection of iconic signs to be displayed in the museum’s music and popular culture exhibitions when it opens to the public in 2015. Throughout its rich history, spanning from 1971 to 2006, Soul Train featured performances by the most recognized names in R&B, soul and hip-hop. The show’s legacy also includes an important cross-cultural influence on American music, fashion and dance trends.
The museum’s acquisition includes several iconic objects: two 10-feet-wide neon signs used on the series between 1993 and 2006—one featuring the program’s signature dancing Soul Train and the other displaying the television show’s name. Also in the collection is a Soul Train Music Awards sign used during the 2006–2007 awards show. The collection will help the museum tell the story of the show’s seminal impact on popular culture. Soul Train is on record as the longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated program in television history.
“This is one of those television shows that beamed African American culture to households of black and white America, where generations of kids learned the latest and coolest dances,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, founding director of the museum. “We are grateful to Soul Train for donating an important piece of American history and pop culture to our museum.”
“Having the opportunity to share the legacy of Soul Train in this way is an incredible honor,” said Kenard Gibbs, CEO of Soul Train Holdings. “The show and its achievements will be immortalized for future generations.”
A formal donation announcement will kick off a public program held in honor of Soul Train’s legacy June 30, 6–9 p.m. This is the first evening event for the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Rhythm and Blues: Tell It Like It Is program and will celebrate Soul Train’s cultural and historic impact on music and dance. The program will begin with a conversation moderated by museum curator Tuliza Fleming exploring the series’ phenomenal impact on popular culture, television, fashion, advertising and race relations. The panelists include Kenard Gibbs, CEO of Soul Train Holdings; Tony Cornelius, president/CEO of Akabueze Productions Inc. and son of Soul Train founder, producer and host Don Cornelius; Tyrone Proctor, original Soul Train dancer; Nicholas “NickFRESH” Puzo, DJ, producer and founder of SoulTrainFans; and Questlove, DJ, producer and drummer for The Roots. A dance lesson from Proctor and Urban Artistry dancers will follow the discussion. The evening ends with a Soul Train dance party with music provided by DJ Questlove.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honors tradition bearers from across the United States and around the world. With approximately 1 million visitors each year, the Festival unites performers and visitors in the nation’s capital to celebrate the diversity of cultural traditions. It is produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The Festival’s website is www.festival.si.edu.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an Act of Congress in 2003 making it the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Scheduled for completion in 2015, it will be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. Currently, during the pre-building phase, the museum is producing publications, hosting public programs and assembling collections. It is presenting exhibitions at other museums across the country and at its own gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. An array of interactive programs and educational resources is available on the museum’s website nmaahc.si.edu.
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