Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were the architects of the Philly Soul sound. Working jointly on songwriting and production, they made Philadelphia the capital of soul music in the Seventies. Gamble and Huff generated a profusion of soulful hits that had a colorblind appeal. They worked with the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Intruders, the Three Degrees, McFadden & Whitehead, Jerry Butler, Lou Rawls, Dee Dee Sharp, Phyllis Hyman and others. Their biggest hits, topping both the R&B and pop charts, were jazz singer Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones”; the O’Jays’ “Love Train”; and the Soul Train theme, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” by MFSB Featuring the Three Degrees. All totaled, Gamble and Huff were behind 15 gold singles and 22 gold albums (8 of which went platinum).
The duo launched Philadelphia International Records label in 1971, giving Motown a run for its money – in terms of sales and influence – in the Seventies. Gamble and Huff’s sophisticated sound included glossy orchestrations; guitars that played glistening octaves or rhythmic chords; jazzy vibes and smooth, grooving saxes; and a memorable lead voice atop satiny group harmonies.
Kenneth Gamble (born August 11, 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Leon A. Huff (born April 8, 1942, Camden, New Jersey) are an American songwriting and production team credited for developing the Philadelphia soul music genre (also known as Philly sound) of the 1970s. In addition to forming their own label, Philadelphia International Records, Gamble and Huff have written and produced 175 gold and platinum records, earning them an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the non-performer category in March 2008.
Gamble's childhood in Philadelphia shaped his adult life: he recorded himself on various arcade recording machines, assisted the morning show DJs on WDAS, operated a record store, and sang with The Romeos. In 1964, before there was "Gamble & Huff" there was "Gamble & Ross." Gamble was discovered and managed by Jerry Ross when Gamble was only 17 years old and they collaborated for many years. Gamble teamed up with Leon Huff (keyboards) for the first time on a recording for Candy & The Kisses. Ross then signed Gamble to Columbia Records in 1963 as a solo recording artist, releasing "You Don't Know What You Got Until You Lose It". Gamble & Ross & Huff collaborated on the hit song "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me", originally recorded by Jay & The Techniques, who were a Jerry Ross group, and later covered by Dee Dee Warwick and later by Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations.
In 1967 they produced their first Top 5 hit: "Expressway to Your Heart" by The Soul Survivors. In the spring of 1968, for their own Gamble Records label, they wrote and produced the top 10 hit "Cowboys to Girls" for the Philadelphia group the Intruders. They subsequently worked with Atlantic Records artists Archie Bell & the Drells, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and The Sweet Inspirations, as well as with Mercury artists Jerry Butler and Dee Dee Warwick, scoring numerous hits along the way.
With a solid track record now behind them, Gamble and Huff formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971 as a rival to Berry Gordy and Motown. They originally approached Atlantic Records, which passed on the deal as being too expensive. CBS Records, headed at the time by Clive Davis, backed the venture and distributed Philadelphia International's records. Aided and abetted by in-house arrangers Thom Bell, Bobby Martin, and Norman Harris, Philadelphia International released a number of the most popular soul music hits of the 1970s, including "If You Don't Know Me by Now" by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, "Back Stabbers", "For the Love of Money", and "Love Train" by The O'Jays, as well as the Grammy-winning "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul. According to an interview on BBC Radio 4 on June 28, 2006, Gamble and Huff were inspired to write "Me and Mrs. Jones" after seeing someone they knew who appeared to be involved in an affair, meeting a woman in a cafe frequented by the songwriters.
Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia soul sound evolved from the simpler arrangements of the late-1960s into a style featuring lush strings, thumping basslines, and sliding hi-hat rhythms—elements that soon became the distinguishing characteristics of a new style of music called disco. By 1975, Philadelphia International and the Philadelphia soul genre it helped define had largely eclipsed Motown and the Motown Sound in popularity, and Gamble and Huff were the premiere producers of soul.
Nearly all of the Philadelphia International records featured the work of the label's in-house band of studio musicians, MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother). MFSB cut a number of successful instrumental albums and singles written and produced by the Gamble & Huff team and arranged by Bobby Martin including the 1974 number-one hit "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)", now best known as the theme song from the American television show Soul Train.
In 1975, Philadelphia International became involved in a payola-related scandal; Gamble was fined and Huff was not. By the late 1970s, however, the popularity of the Philadelphia soul sound began to decline. Disco had suffered a backlash, R&B was going back toward the ballad, and rock had returned to the American charts. Still, the label had its share of late 1970s success. Among the later hits were "Enjoy Yourself" by The Jacksons in 1976, and "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" by McFadden & Whitehead in 1979. One song they wrote, called "My Mood" was adopted in 1980 as the close of WRC's Friday Night 6pm newscasts. As of 2018, WRC was still using this music.
In 1982, Philadelphia International's biggest star, former Blue Notes singer Teddy Pendergrass, became paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, and the future of the label came to be in doubt. That year, Philadelphia broke its ties with CBS and made a new deal with EMI. Although the hits had by now dried up, Gamble and Huff continued to write and produce for the label's artists.
1990 finally saw Gamble and Huff recognized with a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, awarded for Simply Red's cover of the Blue Notes' 1972 hit "If You Don't Know Me By Now". In 1999, Gamble and Huff were honored with the Grammy Trustees Award, joining musical luminaries like Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Walt Disney. Their career output of over 3,000 songs places them among the most prolific professional songwriters of all time.
Today,[when?] Kenneth Gamble continues to write, often with Leon Huff, and Philadelphia International continues. He still lives in South Philadelphia, and remains active in his community. Gamble owns the shuttered Royal Theater and surrounding properties.
In 2008, Gamble and Huff were the first recipients of the newly created "Ahmet Ertegün Award" by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The award replaces the former "non-performer" inductee category. On May 20, 2009, Gamble & Huff were named BMI Icons at the 57th annual BMI Pop Awards. Together, the duo has collected an astounding 86 BMI Pop and R&B Awards.
In May 2010, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were each awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. The ceremony was held at Boston University's Agganis Arena, where the songwriting duo gave the commencement address.
On March 16, 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an obituary for Ruby Gamble, the 96-year-old mother of Gamble, in which he attributes his success to her influence.
"Our mother was extremely special," Kenny Gamble said. "She was the kindest person in our lives. More importantly, she was the inspiration for everything I have done in life, including creating the wonderful music that others have enjoyed around the world."
"As the matriarch of the family, she was a spiritual person who devoted her life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Her kindness and peacefulness will never be forgotten."
In April 2014 Gamble & Huff was presented a tribute by TV One on their award show "The Trumpet Awards" which was the 22nd Annual Awards ceremony. Joe, Carl Thomas, Lyfe Jennings, SWV, & Billy Paul performed songs for the tribute. SWV performed "If Only You Knew"; with their lead singer Coko singing lead on the song. The song is one of Gamble & Huff's biggest hits produced.