Given how popular the TV series Soul Train was for so many years, it was no surprise that a huge crowd turned out Monday night (Sept. 5) for an all-star concert at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion celebrating the show’s 40th anniversary. Estimating crowd sizes is difficult to do with any precision, but the emcees said 20,000 or more people had packed into the park. One thing is for sure: Someone was sitting in nearly every seat in the pavilion, except when they got up to dance.
The stars of the concert were the Chi-Lites, the Emotions, the Impressions and Jerry “The Iceman” Butler, each singing a few of their biggest hits, and all of their voices sounded great. They were backed by an orchestra and band conducted by Tom Tom Washington, with top-notch arrangements that fleshed out the songs without overwhelming the vocals.
Gene Chandler was also billed to perform, but he only made it onto the stage for the big finale, when everyone came out for a rousing rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” What happened to the set Chandler was supposed to perform? I suspect that time ran out, because of an alarmingly long gap between the Impressions and Butler, when emcees Herb Kent and Richard Steele were forced to kill time. It’s not clear what was happening there, but it was the one flaw in an otherwise smoothly run variety show. The creator of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, also spoke at the concert, as a new street sign in his honor was unveiled. “This is the biggest thing that ever happened to me,” he said.