Thom Bell, the legendary producer, arranger, and songwriter who created ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’ alongside Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff as the Mighty Three, has died. A cause of death has not yet been disclosed. He was 79 years old.
Born in Jamaica in 1943, Bell relocated to West Philadelphia with his family as a child. Both of his parents were musicians, and he played drums and studied classical piano growing up. He performed alongside Gamble in their group the Romeos before working as a conductor and arranger for Chubby Checker, eventually joining the singer’s production company. He went on to sign on as a session pianist with Cameo Records, where he collaborated with the local soul group the Delfonics, helming hits like 1968’s ‘La La Means I Love You’ and 1970’s ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time’. The latter was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970.
After forming Philadelphia International Records with Gamble and Leon Huff, Bell helped pioneer the classic Philly Soul sound arranged with his work on songs like ‘Rubberband Man’ by the Spinners, ‘Backstabber’ by the O’Jays, and the Stylistics’ ‘I’ll Be Around’ and ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’. In 1977, Bell collaborated with Elton John, though the sessions were soon discarded, with only three songs seeing release two years later as The Thom Bell Sessions EP. After producing two records for singer Deniece Williams in the early ’80s, Bell kept a low profile throughout the rest of that and the following decade, sporadically working with acts like James Ingram, Phyllis Hyman, Chuck Mangione, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In 1975, Bell won the Grammy Award for Best Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and, in 2017, Bell was honored by the Recording Academy at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends. Earlier this year, a Sam Pollard-directed documentary about Philadelphia International Records was announced.
Gamble paid tribute to Bell in an official statement, saying, “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’.”
Huff added: “Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter, and music producer of all time! It was my esteemed honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”