Philly soul is unmatched and Black Music Month presents the perfect time to shed light on its origin and impact.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who actually founded Black Music Month along with Dyana Williams, and Thom Bell are credited for discovering the “sound of Philadelphia.” Together, they’ve written and produced over 175 gold and platinum songs, some of which were home-grown and beyond. In 1971 they launched their own music label called Philadelphia International Records as a rival to Berry Gordy’s Motown (Detroit) and its influence still resonates today.
Some of Gamble & Huff’s Philly talent included Patti LaBelle, Phyllis Hyman, Harold Melvin & Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, The Intruders, and many more — all of whom later set a path for soulful artists like Musiq, Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott, and plenty of others who would later carry the torch in the 21st century.
As we celebrate the soul of Philadelphia this Black Music Month, here’s a look at 13 Philly artists who helped and continue to shape the sound of Philly:
1. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes/ Teddy Pendergrass
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were a force to be reckoned with. They were originally founded in the 1950s as The Charlemagnes. Teddy Pendergrass found his rise to fame in the group when he was recruited to join them in 1970, and from there he took off as a solo heartthrob. Together, some of their most successful songs included “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (1972) and “Wake Up Everybody” (1975), both of which shot to no. 1 on music charts.
2. Patti LaBelle
Patti LaBelle’s ‘I’m In Love Again’ (1983) album was the last Philadelphia International Records album to go gold, but she went on to sell millions herself, expanding her talents to recipe books, pies and more. In 2019, the Philly singer was honored with her own street: Broad Street — one of the most popular and recognizable streets in Philadelphia that connects South and North Philly.
3. The Intruders
The Intruders created one of the best cookout and Mother’s Day theme songs on earth: “I’ll Always Love My Momma.” The 50- year-old classic still rings relatable.
4. The Delfonics
“La La Means I Love You.” The Delfonics have an extra-long hit list, but some of their most popular songs include “La La (Means I Love You),” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time,” Ready or Not Here I Come” and more. By 1972, The Delfonics earned 12 top-20 hits on the Billboard R&B/ Soul Single chart. They still tour to this day.
5. The Stylistics
The Stylistics are best known for their consecutive R&B top ten 1970s hits including “Stop, Look, Listen,” ”Betcha by Golly, Wow,” ”I’m Stone in Love with You,” “Break Up to Make Up,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “You Are Everything, which was sampled by Mary J. Blige in 1997 (“Everything”).
6. Billy Paul
If you know Philly, you know about the unofficial beard gang and North Philly’s own Billy Paul was a proud member. In addition to his flourishing beard, he flourished on music charts in 1972, going no. 1 with his Grammy award-winning song, “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
7. Phyllis Hyman
Phyllis Hyman was a passionate singer who suffered from bipolar disorder and eventually committed suicide at age 45. Before her death, she released eight albums and earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Duke Ellington inspired
musical, Sophisticated Ladies.
8. The Roots
The Legendary Roots Crew was formed by Black Thought and Questlove in 1987. The band has won 3 Grammy’s and been nominated for 14. Their jazzy mixture of Hip-Hop and live instrumentation garnished them fans all over the globe. They are currently the house band for NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where the world gets to see Philly Soul in action on primetime television every night.
9. Vivian Green
Growing up in the East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia, Vivian Green knew right away she wanted to be a singer and songwriter. In 1997 she helped write “Dear God” by Boyz II Men, and by 19 years old she was backup singing for Jill Scott, who would end up taking her on tour. In 2002, Green released her number-one single “Emotional Rollercoaster” and would go on to help shape the sound of Philly Soul in the early 2000s.
Bilal debuted with his popular R&B single “Soul Sista” in 2000. His progressive Neo-Soul sound and voice earned him collaborations with Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, The Roots and so many more. Nominated for 4 Grammy awards, Bilal helped push the Philly Soul sound to audiences who weren’t otherwise familiar.
11. Jill Scott
Jill Scott’s legend and contribution to Philly Soul is much bigger than just music. The singer/songwriter, poet, model, and actor is one of Philly’s most treasured women. er 2000 debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, went platinum, and she’s starred in some of your favorite movies like Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, and Get On Up The James Brown Story. Her voice will be one that lives on in singer/songwriter history.
12. Musiq Soulchild
Musiq has one of the most iconic Philly Soul albums to ever be released. He signed to Def Jam in 1999 and release his debut album, Aijuswanaseing, in 2000. With Hits “Just Friends” and “Love,” the album spent months on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. His second album “Juslisen,” debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum. He has received 13 Grammy nominations, including 3 for his 2007 album Luvanmusiq.
13. Jazmine Sullivan
Jazmine is the new Queen of Philly Soul. Her amazing sound mixes old Philly Soul with the new more vibrant era of Hip Hop. Jasmine was born into a singing family as a former backup singer for Philadelphia International Records. Jazmine signed her first record deal at 15 years old. She also provided vocals for the legendary Kindred the Family Soul. She released her debut album Fearless in 2008 at number 1 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums and at number 6 on the Billboard 200. Her single “Bust Your Windows”, which reached number 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip- Hop Songs and number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would end up being one of her most popular songs. Her latest album Heaux Tales also reached number one on the R&B Albums chart.