There’s an unspoken power that comes with the ability to unite a nation through an eloquent style and sound that appropriately reflects an image of you and I, during a time when being ourselves was hated. The notion of celebrating being strong, black, and beautiful in the ’70s on national television was a vision foreseen by a black creative who knew that once given the opportunity to showcase black people the way they are meant to be seen, would change the trajectory of entertainment while foreshadowing the blueprint that our ancestors projected. The genius known as Don Cornelius, stood proud in his truth and created a movement that still lives on today. BET’s American Soul, chronologize the creation of the hippest trip in America and The Quintessential Gentleman had the opportunity to speak with actor Sinqua Walls, who plays the legendary Don Cornelius, as he gives us an insight into the essence of SOUL.
Briefly describe what power means to you as a Black Man in America:
SW: Power means standing confidently and sitting comfortably in one’s own skin and in their truth. I think as Black Men and Black people that we get so many societal messages telling us one way to be and to conform. I think the strongest thing you can do is sit comfortably in your shoes knowing that you are enough and that you bring enough. To exhibit power or to have power is to grow in your own internal strength, confidence and values knowing that no matter what color or complexion you are or where you come from is that you are enough, and that’s what power means to me.
What is the essence of SOUL?
SW: I will equate the essence of soul or having soul with being cool. I would have to go back to the notion of just being yourself. I think the coolest thing you can do is be yourself, and not to waver and do something to follow the masses but more so do things that you like. A lot of time insecurities and the lack of confidence and drive us to do things that others want us to do. What I think is soulful is what you want to be and what you think is cool is what you are doing and thinking for yourself.
Soul Train ran during a pivotal time for the black community, and we are still being met head first with racial tension and division; how can we as influentials use our daily platforms to encourage and advocate for change?
SW: I use my platform first and foremost to speak to the youth. I think change comes with the growing of generations. For us, I think change happened by the standards of the people who were here before us. For me, I go into schools, I volunteer to help kids, I try to educate them on whether to be an actor or to be a good person. I encourage them to follow their dreams. The more we have people following their dreams the more we have young people knowing that whatever makes them unique is valuable for moving the generation forward. I just try to be the progressive light that guides them. So when I go into these rooms, I try to represent them well and make sure my articulation as a man is representative of all my fellow black men.
Tell us about the type of research and time you had to put in to appropriately portray the likeness of Don Cornelius:
SW: It was a total immersive process. I had the opportunity to sit down with Tony Cornelius [Don Cornelius Son], to learn more of the back story about his father as a man, his personality, quirks, and drive. I Learned how Don was as a father. I also read a lot and watched documentaries about the being of Soul Train. The first step and the best step was talking to Tony. Talking to him was most valuable to my preparation process.
How did your family react to hearing that you booked the role?
SW: I waited for the press release and statement to come out before I shared the news with anyone. I thought it was something tangible for my family to see and understand that this was happening. I told my mother and grandmother, then I received a call from my grandmother who was flustered and repeated “I’m Just” then hung up. Ha. I receive a screenshot from my mother of a photo of her with tears coming down her face, she used to be a dancer on Soul Train so it means a lot to her as well.
What are your top 3 feel-good songs in current rotation?
SW: Artist I love right now is The Weekend. I love a lot of his old stuff. I listen to Drake and J Cole. I listen to Future, to get in the mood for anything especially if I’m going out or if I’m working out because he has so many bangers. I often times I switch it up. I will listen to an Amy Winehouse and/or classical music. It just depends on the day.
Check out the full interview in our Power Issue.