Jennifer Hudson, writer/producer Timbaland, gospel singer Tasha Cobbs Leonard, and two iconic songwriter/production teams, Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, were honored at the 2022 Urban One Honors on Jan. 17th.
The two-hour special, titled “The Soundtrack of Black America,” was hosted by Ne-Yo. For the fourth annual show, Urban One tapped another group of giants who have made remarkable contributions in entertainment, media, music, education, and the community.
As this year’s show honored and acknowledged the tremendous number of contributions they’ve given to the music world, the notorious songwriting and producer duo Gamble and Huff helped establish the sound of soul in the 1970s with their record label Philadelphia International Records.
In his backstage interview with Eva Marcille, singer Tank shared details of his experience being chosen to pay tribute to Gamble and Huff.
“They’re a part of my design. You know what I mean. So being able to honor them that way, I mean that’s a part of my purpose. A part of what I’m supposed to do,” Tank stated. “Having a conversation with them, picking their brain about music man was one of those cool moments.”
“Everything is ever-changing. You know what I mean. Our music is ever-evolving, you know what I mean. And so, they did it away, and we are doing our best to maintain those traditions and those standards that they set for us. So, to be hand-picked from guys who laid the foundation that we are able to walk on today is just awesome.”
Tank sang some of the greatest hits that the duo wrote and produced, such as “Me and Mrs. Jones,” originally sung by Billy Paul. The 46-year-old also performed “Turn Off the Lights” by Teddy Pendergrass, “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” and “I Love Music,” originally sung by The O’Jays.
The Gamble and Huff partnership began in 1963. The the two diligent musicians from West Philadelphia and Camden met in the Shubert Building’s elevator, which currently houses the Merriam Theater and was full of fledgling music enterprises at the time.
Huff grew up listening to and playing gospel music.
“But I wanted to rock like Little Richard,” the Camden native revealed in a Philadelphia Inquirer interview last year.
He’d worked as a session pianist in New York before meeting Gamble, performing on the Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You” and the Phil Spector-produced legendary holiday album A Christmas Gift for You.
Before Gamble and Huff met, Kenny & the Romeos, the house band of Loretta’s Hi-Hat in Lawnside, was headed by Gamble.
“I really wanted to be in that band,” Huff admits.
When the pianist, Thom Bell, left to work at Cameo-Parkway, the home of adolescent idols Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, he did.
In 1964, Gamble partnered up with his then manager, Jerry Ross, and formed the duo “Gamble & Huff.”
Ross discovered and managed Gamble while he was only 17 years old, and the two worked together for many years. For the first time on a Candy & The Kisses recording, Gamble collaborated with Leon Huff (keyboards).
In 1963, Ross signed Gamble as a solo recording artist to Columbia Records, and the song “You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It” was released. Gamble, Ross, and Huff worked on the famous song “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” which was first recorded by Jerry Ross’s group Jay & The Techniques and later covered by Dee Dee Warwick, Diana Ross & The Supremes, and The Temptations.
The Soul Survivors‘ “Expressway to Your Heart” in 1967 and The Intruders’ “Cowboy to Girls” in 1968 were both hits for the pair. The music was released on several independent labels.
“You have to struggle from time to time,” Gamble explained. “That’s why we wrote Jerry Butler tunes like “Only the Strong Survive.” That song was recorded by Elvis Presley, right? He would wander around his house singing “Only the Strong Survive,” according to the narrative, and one of his producers remarked, “Let’s record it.”
In 1971, Gamble and Huff inked a deal with famed record executive Clive Davis, then chairman of CBS Records, to form Philadelphia International, using Motown as a model and inspiration.
Going East by Billy Paul, a jazzy soul singer who would explode the following year with his superb sneakin’ about tune “Me & Mrs. Jones,” penned by Gamble and Huff with Cary Gilbert, was the first album released.
“Gamble and Huff blew up,” Davis stated in his memoir. “They sold ten million records in nine months.”
CBS oversaw worldwide distribution.
“For young African American producers and songwriters, it was difficult. That was the way the business worked. “As two Philly men, it was a little difficult for us to get our stuff out there,” Gamble said. “The agreement relieved us of a lot of stress.”
Gamble and Huff have written and produced 175 gold and platinum records together, earning them non-performer induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in March 2008.
Their songs are still being sampled by artists, such as Megan Thee Stallion, Drake, Kanye West, and the late Nipsey Hussle.
Megan Thee Stallion’s 2019 hit “Simon Says” contains samples of “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Drake’s 2016 single “Fake Love” contains “Backstabbers” samples, and Nipsey Hussle’s 2013’s single “All Get Right” samples The O’Jays’ “Who Am I” single. Kanye West’s 2010 singe entitled “Good Friday” contains samples of “You Got What I Need” by Freddie Scott, which the late Biz Markie sampled for his “Just a Friend.”
Did you enjoy Urban One Honors this year? Tell us what song pops into your head when thinking of The Soundtrack of Black America down below.
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