Thom Bell, Legendary Producer of the ‘Sound of Philadelphia,’ Dies

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The Mighty Three outside their Sound of Philadelphia HQ

Thom Bell, a producer, arranger and songwriter of significant hits in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, as one of the cornerstones of The Sound of Philadelphia, died today (Dec. 22, 2022) in Bellingham, Wash. His death at age 79 was first reported by Philadelphia radio station WDAS-FM and confirmed by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Along with his frequent partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the trio became known as “The Mighty Three” and were prime architects in Philadelphia soul music that consistently crossed over to the pop charts. Among the classic hits that Bell either wrote, co-wrote or produced were such songs as “I’ll Be Around” and “The Rubberband Man” for the Spinners, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “La-La (Means I Love You)” by the Delfonics, and “I’m Stone in Love With You” by the Stylistics.

His work for the Spinners yielded many #1 R&B and/or pop singles, including “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “Then Came You” (with Dionne Warwick) and “The Rubberband Man.”

Listen to the single edit of the Spinners’ great recording of “The Rubberband Man”

The legacy of the three behind-the-scenes music legends is being explored in an upcoming documentary, The Sound of Philadelphia. The feature length film was announced on Feb. 2, 2022, by Warner Music Entertainment, Warner Chappell Music, and Imagine Documentaries, in partnership with Jigsaw Productions. The announcement described the documentary as “celebrating the creation of music’s most symphonically seductive genre, Philly Soul. The never-before-told story will chronicle the enduring legacies of [the] musical icons as they developed their timeless sound, which would go on to influence generations of artists and songwriters and change the music industry forever.”

In a shared statement when the documentary was announced, Gamble, Huff and Bell said: “After six decades, we are incredibly proud to finally share our life stories with the world and showcase all the hard work that has gone into creating this great music. Our longtime fans and new fans will get a unique look into the creation of the Sound of Philadelphia with the themes of empowerment and love, to ‘people all over the world’ as we’ve always had a ‘Message in our Music’.”

Bell arranged the Gamble- and Huff-produced 1972 smash for the O’Jays, “Back Stabbers,” on the Philadelphia International label.

Recordings he produced for Elton John in 1977 and released in 1979 as The Thom Bell Sessions, including “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” marked a comeback for the superstar. The single became John’s first U.S. Top 10 hit in three years.

Bell contributed to the development of a ‘70s soul sound that moved beyond the grit of Southern soul and the effervescence of Motown by building complex and sophisticated arrangements around smooth strings, elegant horns and a driving rhythm that anticipated the rise of disco. With the Delfonics, the Stylistics, the Spinners, and others, Bell established his trademark sound with sweet strings and muted brass led by the French horn.

Bell was born on Jan. 26, 1943, in Jamaica and moved to Philadelphia as a child. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2022

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  1. 122intheshade
    #1 122intheshade 23 December, 2022, 00:59

    Thom Bell was one of the greats. The Mighty Three owned the charts in the early to mid 70s. I got sucked into the Stylistics by “Stop, Look, Listen” and “Betcha By Golly, Wow”. Great songs, magnificent arranging and production. I did not know he produced Deniece Williams “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”. Another fave, among many.

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