Photo by Curt Yeomans
Conley resident Lurlean Stewart (center) shows off her dance moves Friday in an attempted, world-record-setting, 328-member “Soul Train” line at Clayton County International Park, in Jonesboro.
The television dance show, “Soul Train,” was must-see television for Conley resident Lurlean Stewart in the 1970s.
As a young woman, Stewart, now 61, tuned in week after week to see people her age dancing to their heart’s delight, to the latest funk, soul and dance tunes, on the nationally televised show. She watched the show’s host, Don Cornelius, introduce successful superstars, including Chaka Khan, James Brown, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and the Jackson 5 as guest performers of the week.
And, of course, Stewart’s favorite part of the show was watching the dancers do the “Soul Train Line,” where the youngsters formed two lines and pairs of dancers — one male and one female — got to show off their moves as they made their way between the two lines.
“You’d see all kinds of crazy outfits — really crazy outfits,” said Stewart, as she left out a robust laugh.
Hundreds of local senior citizens, including Stewart, shook their groove things in Jonesboro Friday in an attempt to do what the late Cornelius himself might have called the “hippest trip” in Clayton County’s history. The elderly citizens set out to set a new Guinness World Record for the largest “Soul Train “ line ever — and they may have succeeded.
Although it still has to be certified by Guinness officials, 328 senior citizens, local elected officials and employees of Clayton County’s Senior Services Department participated in a “Soul Train” line during the senior services department’s annual Mayfest celebration at Clayton County International Beach. That is way higher than the exiting record of 211 people set last year at a school in California.
“Give yourselves a hand, everybody, because you just set a new world record,” an announcer proclaimed as the final member of the train made her way down the line. “We’re going to send a picture of you all to ‘Jet’ magazine, for their ‘Photo of the Week’ feature.”
Although the 2012 theme of “National Older Americans Month” — which is this month — is “Never Too Old to Play,” the theme locally might have been aptly stated as “Never Too Old To Get Down.” Elderly residents, some of whom were in wheel chairs, danced their way down the line to a plethora of 1970’s dance tunes, such as “Got To Give It Up,” by Marvin Gaye.
“We have a lot of events at the facilities, but no matter what event we have, they [the seniors] always form a ‘Soul Train’ line,” said Clayton County Senior Services Director Mary Byrd, as she explained the reasoning behind the record-breaking attempt. “We just realized the lines are longer, and longer. They just love ‘Soul Train’ ... so we just decided ‘Let’s make this thing official.’ ”
The record was actually broken when Atlanta resident Eva Whiters, 64, sashayed her way down the line. As she got to the end of the line, she held up one finger on both of her hands and waved them in the air. Afterward, she said she was ecstatic to be a part of the attempt to set a new world record.
“It feels wonderful, fantastic [to be the record-setting dancer],” a jubilant Whiters proclaimed just as she finished her dance. “I’m just elated ... That was my hobby [in the 1970’s] — dancing. Dancing was my love, and I was so happy to be a part of this.”
The potential record setting dancer, however, was Rex resident Erma Wyatt, 58, who was mobbed by photographers eager to take her picture as she got to the end of the line. “It feels really good [to set a new record],” she said. “I’ll never forget this. I’ve been a fan of ‘Soul Train’ since I was a little girl. I never thought I’d be in a ‘Soul Train’ line, though.”
The attempt to set a new world record brought out several elected officials from across the county. Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, and Commissioner Gail Hambrick, danced side-by-side at the start of the line. Occasionally they gave high-fives to people lined up on either side of them as they shuffled down the line.
They were followed by State Reps. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) and Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), and State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), who got down to the beat of the music a little bit more than her fellow elected officials. Clayton County Board of Education member Jessie Goree also participated in the line.
“Congratulations Clayton County, you did it,” an enthusiastic Bell yelled as he addressed an ecstatic group of seniors after the dancing ended.
Now that the dancing is over, Byrd said the arduous process of filling out required paperwork for Guinness officials begins. County officials had a professional counter present for the attempt to count, and certify the number of people who participated in the “Soul Train” line.
She added that county public safety officials, who acted as stewards for the attempt, will have to fill out and submit paperwork and a video recording of the attempt to Guinness. If it is confirmed as a new record, she explained, Guinness officials would travel to the county to make the formal proclamation.
“We’re not sure [how long the certification process could take],” Byrd said. “It could be six, to eight weeks to complete the process from here.”
And as the seniors got in their cars and left the park at the end of the celebration, they did so with a little bit of love, a little bit of peace, and a whole lot of sooouuuul.