All Aboard: Soul Train, Acquired by BET, Announces Chaka Khan, Kool & the Gang, More for 2017 Cruise

Paras Griffin/BET/Getty Images for BET
Erykah Badu performs onstage during the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on Nov. 6, 2015 in Las Vegas. 

BET Networks’ acquisition of the Soul Train franchise for an undisclosed sum this week tracks the latest chapter in a relationship that dates back to 2009. That’s when the Viacom division relaunched the Soul Train Awards in association with the brand’s previous owners, InterMedia Partners and the Yucaipa Companies.

“We also worked with them to manage the brand over the last three years,” says Richard Gay, BET’s executive VP, strategy and operations. “During that time, we learned the brand is as powerful as we thought and even then some. That set everything in motion."

In addition to the Soul Train Awards and a Broadway musical adaptation announced in 2014, the acquisition includes more than 1,100 television episodes from creator/producer Don Cornelius’ iconic Soul Train dance show as well as 40 television specials. There’s also the Soul Train Cruise, which revealed its 2017 lineup Wednesday (April 6). In celebration of the cruise’s upcoming fifth anniversary, Chaka Khan, Kool & the Gang, the Commodores and Chic featuring Nile Rodgers will be among the acts setting sail with Cornelius’ son/host Tony Cornelius. The “Hippest Trip at Sea," in association with StarVista Live, will visit Belize City (Belize), Cozumel (Mexico) and Freeport (Bahamas) during its March 4-11, 2017 run, originating out of Ft. Lauderdale (soultraincruise.com).

 

During a phone interview with Billboard, BET’s Gay talked about the musical, previously reported plans to revive the long-running dance show plus additional platforms through which to grow the Soul Train brand while steadfastly preserving its legacy. “Cool, good R&B/soul music, dance, fashion … it’s a brand that stands for something,” says Gay.

Will BET’s first post-acquisition platforms be tied to the Soul Train Awards this fall?

I think you’ll see a lot before then. Besides the Broadway play, we’ve been doing a summer and holiday jam concert series in conjunction with [Maverick Management partner] Shawn Gee and Jill Scott along with Live Nation and iHeartMedia. We’ve done probably eight concerts in this particular series, which focuses on current R&B/soul artists like Scott, Kem and Ledisi. So you’ll see that tour coming around again.

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There’s also the iconic library. When Soul Train was on the air, every single person came through whether a musician, actor, pop culture personality, whomever. There are many unbelievable moments captured in that library. If you had the chance to see Spike Lee’s great documentary on Michael Jackson, there are Soul Train clips throughout that and the recent PBS 50th anniversary documentary about the Black Panthers. If you’re talking about a certain era and telling a certain kind of story, there are only a few places you can go. We’ve got a couple of other things that will be popping up as well as we build up to the Soul Train Awards on BET and Centric.

What is the status of the Broadway musical?

We’ve been working with Matt Weaver, the producer of Rock of Ages, for almost two years as part of that development. He’s still very much on board as is Anthony Zuiker, creator of CSI, who is writing the show. There are no official dates quite yet. We’re making sure it’s baked right, but it’s definitely coming soon.

Two years ago, Nick Cannon talked about revamping the legendary dance show.

Nick came to InterMedia and optioned the brand, developing ideas to bring the show back. I believe it was with NBC at that time. But he wasn’t an investor or part-owner.

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Is that still on the table?

We’re open to all kinds of different ideas like reviving the show for today’s era. It’s an unbelievable brand and franchise from the dance perspective. However, you might not necessarily do it just on television. It would probably have a huge digital and social footprint, too as you think about new ways of doing the show. Scripted product is pretty hot right now and we’ve received pitches from that aspect. Soul Train was set in a time in America for black culture that was very interesting. If you look at the airwaves now, there’s been more black content. We’ve had many interesting conversations involving television and film; about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to bring it back. But nothing is locked in stone right now.


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