The 2012 Soul Train Awards marked the 25th anniversary for the historic show and the first without the legendary Don Cornelius. In his memory, this edition of the awards had no choice but to be special. With an amazing lineup of talent, the honoring of New Edition for their contributions to black music and the fact that this show took place 48 hours after President Barack Obama was elected for “Two Terms!” (shoutout to 2 Chainz), it was an honor for The Root to be on hand to catch up with today’s stars and a few legends as they shared their thoughts on Soul Train, New Edition, President Obama and more. The Soul Train Awards air on BET and Centric Sunday, Nov. 25 at 9 p.m. ET.
The Root: When I say “Soul Train,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
Eric Benet: Don Cornelius and the Soul Train line. What I remember most is being 8 years old in the Milwaukee winter. My sister and I would cuddle up under a blanket next to the TV so we could check out what all of the new dances were and then try to do them. Then I had my dream come true when I got to perform on Soul Train with Don Cornelius coming up to me and saying some really complimentary and affirming things as a new artist. He made me feel great about my craft. This show means a lot to me.
The Root: If the Soul Train line happened right now, what dance would you do?
Kenny Lattimore: I would have to take you back to when I first came out and do the Bankhead Bounce.
The Root: Which New Edition member did you have a crush on growing up?
Estelle: Ralph Tresvant was my guy! Shag and everything. And when he sang “Sensitivity”? Swoon!
The Root: What did Soul Train mean to you?
Jimmy Jam: Most of the artists tonight were all — if not introduced — they were influenced by the images that they saw on Soul Train. I remember growing up in Minneapolis. There wasn’t a big black culture there. There was a good music and culture but not one that I could relate to, and Soul Train was relatable. It was the inspiration to see the acts that I was hearing. Remember, this was before music videos, and there was no YouTube to go back and watch your favorite artists.
What Don Cornelius did was bring the acts into your living room so you could see what they looked like. That made a great impression on me and everybody here in some way.
The Root: You’re performing “Refill” tonight. Did you have any idea it would be such a huge hit for you?
Elle Varner: No, I had no idea it would be as big as it has been for me, and it’s an honor to perform it tonight. I knew it was a huge song, but I wasn’t sure if people would get it because it was so different. But I knew that if any song was going help me break out, that would be it.
The Root: How does it feel to still be able to make music that resonates with people for as long as you have?
Charlie Wilson: It’s incredible to still make records today. To still make No. 1 records and work with today’s top artists is really a great thing. Not only that, but when you can play the new records and go back to the old records and the people are still with you, that’s really a beautiful thing.
The Root: What were your emotions when President Obama won a second term?
MC Lyte: It was more than I ever could have dreamed of. It was one of those moments. Initially [on election night], we had red sweeping over the nation, and I thought to myself, “Oh, my God!” I was a little frightened, but then I was ecstatic when the final results came in.
The Root: What’s your favorite New Edition song, and how did they influence today’s artists?
Lil Mama: My favorite song? (sings) “Cool it now! You’ve got to slow it down. Slow it down!” I just had to sing it for you. The whole New Edition movement was amazing, from being a group to becoming solo acts. These are great entertainers and trendsetters. At one time everyone was into the suit and ties on artists, and then these young boys came in with a little bit of swag and amazing voices. They set the tone for the new generation of hip-hop and R&B.
The Root: Not only are you nominated for the Centric Award, but you’re also covering Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” tonight. What does that mean to you?
Leah LaBelle: To be nominated for the Centric Award and have the opportunity to perform is really exciting for such a legendary show. BET and Centric have been big supporters of mine, and this was my first nomination ever.