cover image The Hippest Trip in America: ‘Soul Train’ and the Evolution of Culture and Style

The Hippest Trip in America: ‘Soul Train’ and the Evolution of Culture and Style

Nelson George. Morrow, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-222103-2

The iconic music-and-dance television show that defined the look and moves of Black America gets a fond though unfocused retrospective in this nostalgic history. Music historian George (The Death of Rhythm and Blues) recounts Soul Train’s run as a pioneering showcase for African-American music and pop culture, recalling the bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and planetary afros of its 1970s heyday, the on-set drama of ambitious young dancers jostling for camera time, and the show’s centrality in the ‘hood as a Saturday tele-ritual that inspired fashion and dance floor trends. The story loses steam as it chugs into the 1980s and 1990s, when crossover acts abandoned the show for whiter audiences, viewers departed for music-video channels, and producer/host Don Cornelius, once the epitome of cool with his elegant suits and suave baritone, fell behind the times in his estrangement from the hip-hop scene. George relies heavily on interviews from the eponymous VH1 documentary; some of these reminiscences, like Rosie Perez’s exuberant recollection of dancing, are a hoot, but the narrative stalls during lengthy monologues, including four solid pages of Cornelius’s congressional testimony against gangsta rap. Still, George captures some of the energy and creativity of black youth cult busting out of the ghetto. Photos. (March 25)