Sound of Philadelphia Producer Thom Bell Dead at 79
Grammy-winning producer Thom Bell, credited with helping develop the Sound of Philadelphia style, died at the age of 79.
Alongside Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Bell was part of the Mighty Three who oversaw a range of hits, mainly in the soul genre, over four decades. Their work will be celebrated in the upcoming movie The Sound of Philadelphia.
“Tommy and I have been best friends for over 60 years,” Gamble said in a statement. “When we first met, we decided to start writing songs together and form a singing duo, Kenny and Tommy, and then our band the Romeos. Leon Huff and I were proud to have him as part of our Mighty Three music writing team, which helped create our signature brand of TSOP. He was a great talent and my dear friend.”
Huff added, “Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter and music producer of all time. It was my esteem[ed] honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”
Born in Jamaica in 1943, Bell moved to Philadelphia as a child and studied classical piano before discovering pop music. His first production work came with Cameo Records, where he delivered two songs for the Delfonics. The second hit, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” was nominated for a Grammy in 1970.
Listen to the Delfonics' 'Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)'
Teaming up with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, Bell worked with Jerry Butler, the O’Jays and Dusty Springfield, among others. His co-writing partnership with Linda Creed led to a string of hits including the Stylistics’ “You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”
Bell also worked with Spinners for seven years, leading to the Best Producer Grammy in 1974, and collaborated with Elton John on the Thom Bell Sessions EP, which was released in 1979. Bell was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2016.
Listen to Spinners' 'Games People Play'
“I always felt that, from the very beginning, from the first time [you] put the needle down … it’s supposed to say something,” Bell said in a 2006 interview. “And when you’re dealing with the civilian, dealing with the customer – what I call the civilians and customers – you give them something. When they’re paying for something, give them your best. … And from the very moment that needle goes down, you want it to be a memorable occasion. You want it to grab them [and make them] say, ‘Well, what was that?’ And the next … each bar means something.”
Listen to the Stylistics' 'Betcha by Golly, Wow'