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A Chat With the Stars of BET’s New Don Cornelius Drama American Soul

Soul Train is chugging back onto TV, and it’s about to boogie into a whole new generation’s consciousness.
Traveling back in time to the 1970s, BET’s American Soul re-creates and goes behind the scenes of the iconic television music program, which ran for 35 years and was undeniably a supreme source for African-American music, dance, style and culture.

Focusing on the life of the show’s host and creator, Don Cornelius, American Soul aims to depict not only how he made his own dreams come true but also how he gave aspiring artists the platform to do the same.

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The show premieres Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m., and after attending the premiere we can say this: Actor Sinqua Walls doesn’t just play Don, he becomes him. That may have something to do with the 10-episode show’s executive producer — Tony Cornelius, Don’s son. If you like retro-minded TV shows like Netflix’s The Get Down, you’ll love the fashion and music in this one.

Joining Walls is an all-star cast of series regulars — Grammy-nominated singer Kelly Price, Jason Dirden (Greenleaf), Iantha Richardson (This Is Us), Katlyn Nichol, Jelani Winston, Christopher Jefferson — with cameos from Kelly Rowland as Gladys Knight, Michelle Williams as Diana Ross, Bobby Brown as Rufus Thomas, K. Michelle as Martha Reeves, and more.

L.A. Weekly caught up with stars Walls and Price at the red-carpet premiere last night at Wolf Theater in North Hollywood, and their enthusiasm was so infectious that we thought one of the show’s famous dance lines might break out right there.

Katlyn Nichol and Kelly Price in American Soul EXPAND

Katlyn Nichol and Kelly Price in American Soul

Annette Brown/BET

L.A. WEEKLY: Don Cornelius has so much influence/impact on the culture. Did you feel pressure at all to live up to his role?

SINQUA WALLS: Not only the impact on the culture but the impact he had on his family. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to honor this man, honor his legacy and honor his family. When I stepped into it, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I wanted to do everything I can to deliver the best I could each and every time.

What was your favorite moment filming on set?

KELLY PRICE: So many. The most potent memory was a scene where my acting skills were really tested. I had to tap into a darker place. I can’t say much about it, obviously, but that was great. If there was any doubt in my mind that I had the ability to do this and go there, I proved myself that day.

Soul Train was a part of your success story as a musician and singer. What was it like reliving it?
PRICE:  It was very full-circle for me. Every moment I was on set, I was extremely grateful. I would burst into tears every now and then. I’m the girl who cries. The role that Don Cornelius played in my life, my career, my connection to his family, to the brand, to the show, to the awards — then to be selected to be a part of this group of people to tell the story of his life, I feel like I’m absolutely where I’m supposed to be.

What was it like going back to the ’70s?

WALLS: Amazing. Literally to step in the shoes was amazing. It was like going in a time warp. The colors, the clothes, the cars, the music, the people, the dances — it was a phenomenal experience. I got to play every day.

How was that fro though?

WALLS: Listen! Shout-out to our hair and makeup team for putting that wig on every day. I finally understand what actresses go through every day, having to put that on. I spent an hour and a half in hair and makeup.

We thought it was real!

WALLS: I wish. I’m growing it out so I can have a half fro. A semi-fro.

Kelly Rowland as Gladys Knight with The Pips in American Soul EXPAND

Kelly Rowland as Gladys Knight with The Pips in American Soul

Jace Downs/BET


You worked with an all-star cast. Besides yourself, who was your favorite character?

WALLS: Shout-out to my entire cast. We had an amazing cast from top to bottom. My favorite, favorite, favorite one? [pauses] Iantha Richardson! We played every day, she was like my right hand. She’s phenomenal.

What would you say is the closest thing to Soul Train today?

WALLS: The closest thing we’ve had so far was 106 & Park when it was on BET. Right now, we have an emerging culture of social media where everything is Soul Train in a way.

PRICE: There is no equivalent. We have reality TV now. There’s really no place where people actually go to perform their music other than award shows. But there’s no every week something that we watch, looking to see the people that we love. Maybe it’s time to bring Soul Train back!

Sinqua Walls and Kelly Price at last night's L.A. premiere of American Soul. EXPAND

Sinqua Walls and Kelly Price at last night’s L.A. premiere of American Soul.

Getty Images for BET

What are you most excited for people to see?

WALLS: I’m excited for people to see the twists and turns, the life of Don. Everything they didn’t know that happened on Saturday, they’re going to see what happened Monday through Friday.

PRICE: Everything! I’m excited that the world will get an opportunity to meet Don Cornelius. You knew the television producer and the man who hosted the show but there was no social media back then. You couldn’t find out about everything people were doing just by clicking and following them. There was a mystique to celebrity back then.

The only thing that we had back then — God help us — was the National Enquirer, Star Magazine and the 6 o’clock news. Nobody wanted to be on any of those! We have the opportunity to unravel the mystery of Don Cornelius. The good, the bad, the ugly. We’re doing it with the permission of the Cornelius family. I’m excited to see how people react to learning about him — as a person, as a man, as somebody who had a dream that refused to take no for an answer.