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, 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. In collaboration with Bell, Gamble and Huff also formed the music publisher Mighty Three Music.
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 premier 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.
Throughout the 1970s, Gamble and Huff made music that addressed political and social issues faced by the African American community. Many of their songs articulated the theme of black pride and highlighted the Black Power Movement's struggle for power and self-determination. Representative examples include Billy Paul's "Am I Black Enough for You?" (1972), the O'Jays' "Give the People What They Want" (1975), and the star-studded "Let's Clean Up the Ghetto" (1977), the latter of which was the title track from an album that characterized Philadelphia International's broader political and social designs. Scholar James B. Stewart wrote of the album and initiative: "The record company's ability to mount this type of community empowerment venture, while functioning essentially as a component of CBS's black music department, is an interesting contrast to the more traditional style of corporate control of lyrical content ... The title song ... implores listeners to participate in a physical clean up effort 'because the ghetto is our home.' The titles of several of the other songs on the album convey the album's broader thrust including, 'Now Is the Time to Do It,' 'Year of Decision,' 'New Day, New World Comin',' and 'Save the Children.'" The album cover prominently displayed Gamble's message: "The only way we can clean up the physical ghetto is to first clean up the mental ghetto. With the help of almighty God, we will be able to turn this community into a positive system. Our first step is cleanliness, 'cause it's the closest thing to godliness." The album jacket also noted that all profits from the LP would be donated to charity for five years.
Gamble's "Clean Up The Ghetto" project, which involves the youth of blighted communities to help clean-up and repair damaged or neglected properties, started in Philadelphia, and has spread to Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago with similar events being held throughout the country. Gamble has also contributed his time and energy to the T. J. Martell Foundation and The AMC Cancer Research Center and Hospital. He has served on the board of directors for the Philadelphia Music Foundation, which honors the artists, songwriters, and producers from Philadelphia. He founded the organization Universal Companies which has opened a restaurant, a bookstore, a mosque, low-income housing, and several charter schools. These buildings, mostly built by locally hired labor, have served as springboards to revitalizing neighborhoods. For example, in 2003 Gamble and Universal Companies partnered with others for a $100 million plan to construct and renovate 400 homes in south Philadelphia.
In 1975, Philadelphia International became involved in a payola-related scandal; Gamble was fined but 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". Also in 1990, Mighty Three Music was acquired by Warner Chappell Music. 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, and 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.
In 2021, Gamble & Huff wrote a song titled All in the Family Blues for Tito Jackson second album Under Your Spell.
Gamble and Huff are featured on the documentary series Profiles of African-American Success.
Leon Huff has a son, Leon Huff Jr., who produces for the record companies of today, as well, working with notable artists such as 8Ball & MJG, Beanie Sigel & State Property, Ruff Ryders, Lil’ Bow Wow, and more. Leon Huff Jr. goes by the stage name Pop Traxx, and he is the owner of the luxury HDE Studios in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Studio albums produced
- "Kenneth Gamble". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 7 May 2018. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
- "Leon Huff". The HistoryMakers. 26 March 2013. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
- "Inductees for 2008". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame official website. 2007-12-13. Archived from the original on 2008-02-01. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 938. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
- Gamble, Kenny. "Gamble-Ross". Spectro Pop. Archived from the original on 31 July 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Gamble, Kenny. "Kenny scores hit with Expressway To Your Heart by Soul Survivor". The Year in Music. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Gamble & Huff. "Gamble & Huff During their Atlantic Record Years". Record Producers.com. Archived from the original on 3 April 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Gamble & Huff. "Gamble & Huff Scored hits for Mercury Records". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "R.I.P. Legendary soul music producer Bobby Martin". 10 September 2013. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-08-10. Bobby Martin obituary
- Bobby Martin discography at Discogs
- Stewart, James A. (2005). "Message in the Music: Political Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip Hop". Journal of African American History. 90 (3): 196–225. doi:10.1086/JAAHv90n3p196. JSTOR 20063998. S2CID 96427971.
- Tuleya, R. Jonathan. "Cleaning up the ghetto". South Philly Review. Archived from the original on 2015-05-28.
- SHIVER, JUBE (1990-07-28). "L.A. Company Buys Catalogue of Black Music: [Home Edition]". Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif., United States. p. 2. ISSN 0458-3035. ProQuest 281123647. Retrieved 2020-12-30.
- Vanhoenacker, Mark (2012-05-24). "Romney faces tough questions from black leaders in Philadelphia". Slatest.slate.com. Archived from the original on 2013-07-09. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
- "A Philadelphia Non-Profit | Real Estate Development". Universal Companies. Archived from the original on 2013-05-08. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
- "Gamble & Huff Named BMI Icons at 57th Annual Pop Awards". bmi.com. 20 May 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2010-09-22.
- "Several Jazz Artists Honored at Berklee Commencement - JazzTimes". jazztimes.com. Archived from the original on 27 September 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
- John F. Morrison, "Ruby Gamble, 96, mother of musician Kenneth Gamble" Archived 2013-10-22 at the Wayback Machine, Philly.com, March 16, 2012; retrieved on April 16, 2012.
- Official website
- Gamble & Huff interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' December 2011
- "Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff: The Sound of Philly Lives On," Crawdaddy!, March 26, 2008.
- Kenneth Gamble at bmi.com
- Leon Huff at bmi.com
- The Leon Huff 2012 Audio Interview at Soulinterviews.com
- Leon Huff Interview - NAMM Oral History Library (2013)
- Kenneth Gamble Interview at NAMM Oral History Library (2013)