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Executive Producer Tony Cornelius Talks BET’s American Soul

Set to premiere with back-to-back episodes on February 5, 2019

Set to premiere with back-to-back episodes on February 5, 2019 at 9pm ET/PT on BET in the U.S. is its scripted period drama “AMERICAN SOUL,” a 70s-set drama blending fictional and real-life characters and moments inspired by the untold rise of iconic music and dance program “Soul Train.”

Everyone knows Soul Train, but not everyone knows what happened when the music stopped. “AMERICAN SOUL” is the story about the struggle to make the dream of Soul Train come true. Set in the early 70’s, filled with music, dance, fashion and glamour, this is the untold story of the launch of the first nationally-syndicated Black music show and what happened when the music stopped. Battles with record labels for top talent, off-camera drama as young dancers vie for the spotlight, stand in the way of a 30-something Don Cornelius who is sacrificing all that he loves to follow his dream. The journeys of these characters collide in a racially charged LA with the odds stacked against them. All they have is each other and the magic of Soul Train.

The cast includes Sinqua Walls (Power, The Breaks), Kelly Price (Grammy nominated singer), Jason Dirden (Greenleaf), Iantha Richardson (This is Us), Katlyn Nichol, Jelani Winston, and Christopher Jefferson.

Produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment, “AMERICAN SOUL” is executive produced by Jesse Collins, Jonathan Prince, Devon Greggory and Tony Cornelius with Co-Executive Producers Andy Horne and Dionne Harmon. Greggory and Prince will also pen the pilot.

While promoting the series at the Crosby Hotel in New York City, Blackfilm.com spoke with executive producer Tony Cornelius, who is the son of Don Cornelius. Here are some excepts he said regarding the series.

ON GETTING THE FAMILY BLESSING

Tony Cornelius: We’ll you know that’s a good question. I’m so glad you asked that question because they’re lot of people who want to know. They want to know how true it is, how the family felt about it, specifically my mother, when we first talked about American Soul. Actually, I went to her and asked her for the blessing to talk about the relationship between me and her and my father and the family and was it okay that we discuss certain things. We opened up this treasure chest of memories, memories that sometimes people want to forget. When it comes to male and female relationships and she was very open to it. She was very strong about it and she knew that it was something to be told. She understood the importance of the legacy, My father’s legacy. She said it was great. I have a brother in Chicago, Raymond Cornelius, who also has a side of the story that he was open to telling. I’m hopeful that if we can keep our fingers crossed and we go into a second season, we’ll explore it.

ON WORKING WITH SINQUA WALLS

Tony Cornelius: He and I met for the first time and we talked about him not being a caricature of Don Cornelius and being himself; but at the same time we focused on the word essence and essence comes in shapes and forms. I suggested that if he can capture my father’s essence I think he will be successful at the same time. He can be himself and he can have the essence of Don Cornelius. When I think about essence I think about the air we breathe. They walk into the room and they have an aura about them some people think of that as, “Who you think you are?” And other people look at it as a gift. My father had this aura about him when he walked into a room and when I look at some of the cuts and episodes of American Soul I think Sinqua has captured that essence when he walks into the room. When he’s seen on screen it’s like “Wow!” He may not have the voice of Don Cornelius or look exactly like Don Cornelius but he has that essence of Don Cornelius.

ON WRITING THE SHOW AND ITS SOCIO-POLITICAL DICHOTOMY

Tony Cornelius: I think the writers Devon Gregory and Jonathan Prince and the other writers, gifted writers, who were on the show were able to understand that there’s other stuff going on in the background. And the other stuff from; Vietnam to, gang violence, to entrepreneurship to all those things that are going on in our lives are affecting our lives; at the same time we have to deal with that, so I think that they’re smart enough to understand what that is.

Not only did it happen in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s but it’s happening right now.There are things going on that are affecting our lives right now. I think American Soul was smart enough to know that it’s just not about Soul Train but its about what’s going on. Soul Train was created because of what was going on.

ON HIS FATHER’S PATH FROM FAILURES TO SUCCESS

Tony Cornelius: He always told me, I ask him all the time, You got fired at most of the jobs you worked at, and he used to say, ‘Well, I got fired because I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing that.” So I’ve always looked at it as an excuse. He looked at it as an intervention, but at the same time he always knew what he should be doing, he was lucky enough to know what he should be doing and I think that’s what we all strive for. You try to find out what you should be doing but at the same time it’s about practice too. He practiced on his word usage, he practiced on his announcing, he practiced on his information about artists who they were and understood music and sound and knew what lighting was about and sound and set design and all the things it took to put this thing together. He worked at it. I think American Soul shows that through the artist and what it takes to be involved and what it takes to work at some of the trials and tribulations that we got to go through and it covers all those aspects.

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