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Pine Bluff’s Soul Train Connection

Joe Cobb spent more than 35 years in radio broadcasting, owns and operates Ginger’s Popcorn Shop in Hot Springs, and is well-known for voicing the original “Soul Train” introduction.

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Joe Cobb, the 79-year-old owner and operator of Ginger’s Popcorn Shop has been in the popcorn business for more than 24 years. Even with the long-running success of this business, Cobb is known for a great deal more than selling popcorn.

Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Cobb attended the Arkansas Agriculture, Mechanical, and Normal College (now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). During this time, he was interested in studying communication and broadcasting. Unfortunately, AM&N College did not offer that degree plan at the time.

Determined to pursue a career in broadcasting, he went to a radio station in Pine Bluff and asked for a job. Cobb was hired as a college freshman, working at the station for about two years before he dropped out of college to pursue his passion. This passion for radio broadcasting led him to Chicago.

After just two weeks, the 19-year-old landed an on-air job during the morning drive with WBEE radio station in Chicago. Cobb remained at the station for eight months before taking a job at WVON (“The Voice of the Negro”) Radio. WVON broadcasts appeal to people of all races and creeds and still operates as an AM station to this day.

In the late 1960s, Cobb crossed paths with Don Cornelius, who worked in the news department of WVON. The two formed a local traveling concert to three different high schools every Friday which became the concept for Cornelius’ hit show. In 1970, Cornelius created the television show “Soul Train.” Twenty-one-year-old Cobb created and voiced the now infamous “Soul Train” scream/yell that is featured in the introduction. Cobb also chose the show's original theme song “Hot Potato” by the Ramrods. Cobb’s involvement continued for years as they called on his creative radio talents numerous times. His voice also became nationally recognizable following the success of “Soul Train.”

In later years, another Pine Bluff resident would win two Soul Train Awards in 2009 and 2014 for Gospel/Inspirational Songs. Smokie Norful, a Grammy award-winning gospel singer, pianist, and pastor of the Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Bolingbrook, Illinois, spent his developing years in Pine Bluff attending middle school, high school, and ultimately graduating from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a Bachelor’s degree in history. In 2020, Norful was the commencement speaker at UAPB's 162nd ceremony.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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