Coming from a log cabin in Vermont, the 2014 Soul Train Cruise in the Caribbean seemed like the perfect elixir. In Vermont, the winters are wide, and the demographics narrow. Winter is banished in the Caribbean, and the demographics on the Eurodam would be a mirror image.
For my wife and me, and everyone else we met onboard, the cruise featured time travel. We were brought back to the days, long before joint replacement, when we danced in front of our television to Soul Train on Saturday mornings.
For Howard Appell, 67, of Boca Raton, on the first cruise he and his wife ever took, “Meeting people from all over the country with the same love of the music” made it an experience they will repeat in 2015.
The music in the public areas of the ship was strictly old school R&B. While the world tends to screen out call-waiting and elevator music, on the ship, you would see people’s faces light up as a new song came on, and no small number would be singing along.
Adele Holifield, 62, of Seattle, who used a military discount, will sail again in 2015, having learned that the cruisers need to “Be ready to party, no time for sleeping.” Holifield said “We were all there for the love of music, when it was MUSIC.”
Performers agreed, as Jeffrey Osborne would say, “It’s so different today. The music is so degrading (to women).”
Special educator Marty Bragg, 46, of Minneapolis, said “The best part of the cruise was the music! Music from my youth, everywhere I turned, that I Iove to hear. Not only were the bands and DJs incredible, but we would watch old Soul Train episodes in the cabin! I enjoyed the old school feel of the cruisers, and having no kids onboard, adults only, was especially nice for someone who works with kids!”
For Miami resident Dr. Robin Lovett, the cruise provided not just soul, but solace. Having lost her husband four months earlier, she and her sister Pam Cox were sent on the cruise by her nephew Bryan. “Not only did it lift our spirits, but it helped jump-start the healing process.”
Soul and the church go hand-in-hand, so the cruise included a gospel hour. Many performers spoke of their beliefs during their interviews and performances. Las Vegas resident Sylvester Donald Jr., 53, was particularly touched by Charlie Wilson’s faith. “His testimony brought me to tears. From rags to riches, riches to homelessness, that did it for me.”
Seeing entertainers in concert usually keeps you fairly removed from them. The confines of the ship, as well as many activities offstage, dissolved that distance.
After seeing the Isley Brothers perform, we approached Ron Isley in the dining room to tell him how much it meant that they had done “This Old Heart of Mine”, explaining that it had been our song for four decades. Ron pointed to his wife, Kandy, a great backup singer, and she said she had made him include it. We said it made the cruise for us.
A performer with forty years of association with the Isley Brothers was Atlanta resident George Odell. Odell is a link from the galaxy of stars on the cruise to the stellar lineups that toured the Chitlin’ Circuit. Odell had brought many of the same acts on stage decades earlier when he was an emcee.
Known as Gorgeous George for his flashy appearance, Odell had mentored a struggling guitarist performing as Maurice James in Odell’s band. James went on to become famous as Jimi Hendrix.
Performers were interviewed and interacted with cruisers in small group settings.
Ted Mills of Blue Magic talked about being one of the only two male African American artists to record with the Rolling Stones, and how Mick Jagger sent him off in his private jet to Boston for some lobsters.
Shelly Clark, of Honey Cone, told of bringing in the Isley’s new record “Shout”, for when the kids in her junior high school danced at lunch. When the iconic party song produced the same pandemonium depicted in “Animal House”, the principal suspended Shelly for two days.
The keeper of the Soul Train legacy, Don Cornelius’ son Tony, led a discussion where artists talked about the impact of Soul Train on their careers. Ron Isley talked about playing basketball with Don and Marvin Gaye.
Providence native Jeffrey Osborne said “Don only called you up if you had a hit record.”
Ron Isley responded, “We always had a hit record.”
Osborne talked about how there was always a spread of food for the performers, “And it was always KFC.”
But it was the performances, both in the 900 seat Main Stage, and in smaller venues, that rocked the boat. Kingston, Jamaica resident Jodi Ho Lung, 40, said, “My absolute favorite show was Charlie Wilson. I was blown away. The man owned that theatre. Of course, Roberta Flack and Jeffrey Osborne brought me to tears with their perfect vocals, and their bands were absolutely flawless.”
The last afternoon, my wife and I went on a snorkeling excursion at Half Moon Cay, rated the top private island for cruises for the last decade. Joining us were Tori Ruffin and Monte Moir, who perform with Morris Day and the Time. They recognized us from the front row performance we had given them the night before.
Having grown up in St. Paul, I shared having seen Prince put onstage by his parents at a James Brown concert in Minneapolis in 1968. We talked about Prince, and the Twin Cities, since The Time originated in Minnesota.
Underwater, the visibility exceeded anything we had seen in years spent diving in the Keys.
Just as the cruise had so exceeded all our expectations.
Entertainment Cruise Productions offers other cruises featuring country, jazz, smooth jazz, and malt shop memories. Among all producers and cruise lines, the 115 music theme cruises currently scheduled also include blues, Christian, gospel, folk, heavy metal, classical, and Celtic music. Details on all theme cruises can be found at www.themecruisefinder.com.
Soul Train Cruise 2015 will depart Ft. Lauderdale on February 22 for seven nights. It will stop at Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. Performers include Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gladys Knight, The Spinners, Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, The Delphonics, Regina Belle, and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis of the Fifth Dimension. Information is available at www.soultraincruise.com and 855-332-6868. Ask for sales director Jamey Powell, and mention my name.
All rights reserved