The “Sounds of Philly” earns Berklee degrees
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter-producer duo of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff received honorary doctor of music degrees last week from Berklee College of Music.
The Gamble and Huff team formed in the late 1960s, collaborating as songwriters for multiple artists including Patty LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, the Jacksons, The O’Jays and Aretha Franklin.
Their teamwork led to the creation of the Philadelphia International Record label and what is referred to now as “The Sound of Philadelphia” (TSOP). They were responsible for more than 70 No. 1 hits.
Before receiving their degrees, Gamble and Huff participated in a luncheon hosted at the David Friend Recital Hall at the Berklee College of Music. Berklee and Boston Arts Academy students were able to attend a question-and-answer session led by John P. Kellogg, Berklee’s Professor of Music Business and Management and former O’Jay’s attorney.
Gamble and Huff’s career came to light through a brief video and dialogue with the audience.
It all started with a chance encounter they had with each other on an elevator. The gentlemen worked in the Shubert building in Philadelphia, a headquarters for artists and creative individuals that at the time had few African Americans.
“He worked on the sixth floor and I worked on the second floor so when we saw each other on the elevator, we had to say ‘Hey!’” said Huff of their first meeting. “During that time, we were all trying to make it,” he added.
Their first meeting of their creative minds resulted in six or seven songs.
“Most of our songs told actual stories, and that is probably why it resonated with listeners so much,” Huff said.
Though none of those first tracks became hits, they kept pursuing that magic sound.
Gamble talked about the story behind the story in their No. 1 hit “Me and Mrs. Jones” by soul singer Bill Paul.
“We would see this couple come in the same diner on a regular basis, and we later realized that’s not his wife” Gamble said, laughing. “Mrs. Jones wasn’t actually her name, but Smith and some other names just didn’t sound right,” added Huff.
Both Gamble and Huff expressed a deep appreciation to Berklee.
“To be awarded an honorary doctorate of music from The Berklee College of Music for our music career accomplishments is a feeling that goes beyond our wildest dreams,” they said in a statement. “We are very humbled and truly blessed.”