BOSTON — Legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter-producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were presented honorary doctor of music degrees – their first together in a distinguished partnership that is nearing its 50th anniversary – on Saturday at Berklee College of Music’s 2010 Commencement, capping a weekend celebration here at the Agganis Arena. The architects of the world-renowned “Sound of Philadelphia” were recognized for their vast achievements and influence in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. They received their degrees with more than 850 graduates from 54 different countries, in a ceremony whose Philadelphia flavor was undeniable.
Mr. Gamble also delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and more than 4,000 guests including Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, seated together in the front row to watch Brolin’s daughter, Molly, graduate; and Joan Pendergrass, widow of the late Philadelphia International Records soul crooner Teddy Pendergrass. Mr. Gamble encouraged the class to be more than songwriters, guitar players, or business people, but also ambassadors of love through their music. Their message songs of peace, love, empowerment, social conscience and turmoil sold millions of records, as they fashioned the sweet, sexy, stirring, socially conscious Philly Sound at Philadelphia International Records (PIR).
Mr. Gamble quoted “Love Train,” one of 40 No. 1 hits he wrote with Mr. Huff: “People all over the world/Join hands/Start a love train/Don’t miss it/’Cause if you miss it/I’ll feel sorry For You,” and led a brief a capella sing along of the universally familiar chorus.
“It’s wonderful to be young and gifted,” said Mr. Gamble from the podium. “The future is like a piece of clay. You have the ability to mold it and shape it any way you want. It’s right in the palm of your hands. But you have to be committed, you have to be persistent and you have to persevere through all of the setbacks to make your dreams come true. Learn from yesterday, live today at its maximum, and do great planning for tomorrow.”
Accepting his honorary doctorate alongside Mr. Gamble later in the ceremony, Mr. Huff thanked God for meeting his songwriting partner, and told the audience how much he has enjoyed their enduring relationship.
Jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader Kenny Barron, another Philadelphian, took the stage on graduation eve (May 7) at the annual Commencement Concert in the Agannis Arena to perform his composition “Phantoms,” joined by his granddaughter and graduating class member Nikara Warren on vibes. Barron, who launched his career under the tutelage of previous Berklee honoree Dizzy Gillespie, also from Philadelphia, confessed during Commencement to being blown away by the talent in the previous night’s concert, and said that receiving his award on the day that his granddaughter was graduating was a double honor for him.
The Commencement Concert featured some of the college’s most accomplished students presenting a tribute to Gamble & Huff, Barron, de Lucia and Kidjo with performances of music associated with their careers. Concert highlights included a medley of O’Jays songs, including the Gamble & Huff classics “Backstabbers” and “For the Love of Money,” as well as an a capella mix of Philadelphia International Records hits like “TSOP (the Soul Train theme), “Love Train” and “Me & Mrs. Jones” by the Berklee vocal group, Pitch Slap.
As native Philadelphians, Gamble, Huff and Barron also were the only American-born commencement honorees. The other two, Paco de Lucia and Angelique Kidjo, are from Spain and Africa respectively. Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks, also from Philadelphia, noted that distinction in remarks read by Berklee President Roger H. Brown as part of Barron’s introduction. Said Eubanks: “These esteemed gentlemen have deeply inspired so many musicians from jazz to funk filled R&B. Their world wide contribution to music makes me so proud to say, ‘Philly is in the house!’”
Similarly, Philadelphia songstress Patti LaBelle, a Philly International alumnus and past Berklee honoree, relayed her sentiments toward Gamble & Huff in Brown’s intro of them, saying: “I congratulate my brothers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for all that they’ve accomplished throughout their careers and for receiving this prestigious honor from Berklee. I’m very proud of them for everything they do and thankful that we’ve been able to share so many successes. They deserve this recognition and much more.”
This year’s honorary doctorate recipients were recognized for their achievements in contemporary music, for their enduring contributions to popular culture, and for the influence their careers and music have had over Berklee’s international student body. Gamble, Huff, de Lucia, Kidjo, and Barron join the ranks of such esteemed recipients as Duke Ellington, David Bowie, Count Basie, B.B. King, Sting, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Pat Metheny, Loretta Lynn, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Quincy Jones, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Smokey Robinson and Linda Ronstadt.
Gamble & Huff have recorded and collaborated with a galaxy of stars from the pop, rock, soul and jazz universes, including Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Elton John, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Aretha Franklin, the Spinners, the Stylistics, the Delfonics, Dusty Springfield, Jerry Butler, Wilson Pickett, Labelle, Archie Bell & the Drells, the Soul Survivors, Laura Nyro, the Trammps, McFadden & Whitehead, Phyllis Hyman and Grover Washington Jr. Their songs also have been covered by a myriad of artists including Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, Simply Red, Michael Buble, Johnny Mathis, Lesley Gore, Donny & Marie, Thelma Houston, the Brand New Heavies and most recently, Rod Stewart, who sings four Gamble & Huff classics on his current album, Soulbook.
Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principal that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music. For over 60 years, the college has evolved constantly to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With over a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing over 70 countries, and a music industry “who’s who” of alumni, Berklee is the world’s premier learning lab for the music of today — and tomorrow.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Philadelphia International Records, where the Gamble & Huff music machine generated over 100 Gold and Platinum records and over 70 #1 hits, including “Love Train” by the O’Jays, “Me & Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes) and “Enjoy Yourself” (the Jacksons). In 2012, Gamble & Huff will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their historic songwriting partnership, beginning with their meteoric rise as writers and producers of early hits for the Intruders (“Cowboys to Girls”) and the Soul Survivors, who delivered the duo’s first No. 1 pop hit, “Expressway to Your Heart.”
Gamble & Huff became a hot independent R&B producing team in the late 1960s, leading to the creation of Philadelphia International Records in 1971. Almost from the day PIR first opened, artists began to dominate the charts. Within the first year, the O’Jays had #1 R&B and pop hits like “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were riding high with “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and Billy Paul earned the label’s first Grammy with “Me and Mrs. Jones,” quickly turning PIR into a dominant force in the music industry. Within two years, Philadelphia International was the second-largest African-American-owned music company in America. And by 1974, Gamble, Huff and publishing partner Thom Bell placed over
25 songs on the pop and R&B charts, making Mighty Three Music the biggest-selling music publishing company of the year.
Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff have been giving back to their communities for decades, rebuilding inner cities and funding schools to educate students of all ages. They remain committed to a single purpose: the well being and welfare of their people, making lives and conditions better in the community, teaching responsibility and self-respect, encouraging people to vote and clean up their neighborhoods, and honoring the importance of family. They have received countless awards during their illustrious careers not only for their musical genius, but for their sincere dedication to address the plight of those less fortunate.
One of Gamble & Huff’s proudest moments in Philadelphia International history involves a song and album they recorded with the entire PIR roster, “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto,” adopted by states throughout America. The ensuing non-profit campaign, which earned their first invitation to the White House, has evolved into a special personal dream – the renovation of Mr. Gamble’s South Philadelphia neighborhood – an ongoing accomplishment he continues to realize as one the largest community revitalization efforts in the city of Philadelphia’s history through his Universal Companies. Similarly, Mr. Huff has returned regularly to Camden, NJ, to enrich the lives of the underprivileged in his home town, through renovation projects, education, and leisure trips to school-aged children. Last year, he was honored by the city with the renaming of a street in his old neighborhood to Leon Huff Way.
Gamble & Huff are among the most prolific professional songwriters of all time, having written and produced over 3,500 songs within 35 years, an output that rivals such famed songwriting teams as Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards. They are enshrined in five music Halls of Fame, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a massive catalogue that
includes numerous pop #1 hits, R&B #1 hits, 100 gold and platinum records, Grammy winners and BMI songwriters’ awards honorees. Featured prominently in television programs (“The Apprentice,” “Cold Case”), films (“The Nutty Professor”) and advertising spots (Verizon, Chevrolet, Coors Light, Old Navy, The Gap, Office Max) for more than 30 years, Gamble & Huff’s songs have entered the musical DNA of contemporary culture. In fact, one of their songs is played on the radio somewhere in the world every 13.5 minutes. With a stable core of artists led by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, MFSB and the Three Degrees, Gamble & Huff co-founded Philadelphia International Records and created monster hits almost from the first day of its inception. Songs they have written and produced together, like “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train,” “For The Love Of Money,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Cowboys to Girls,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Enjoy Yourself,” “I’m Gonna Make
You Love Me,” “Only the Strong Survive” and “TSOP” (better known as the “Soul Train” theme), have received songwriters’ awards from Broadcast Music International (BMI). Their songs comprise the most sampled R&B catalogue in the world, by artists such as Jay-Z, Usher, Cam’ron, Ja Rule, Jaheim, and Avant.
In 1999, four years after being inducted into the National Academy of Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, Gamble & Huff were honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with the Trustees Award for their extensive body of work, both as producer and songwriter, and their contribution to the entire fabric of popular music, joining luminaries like Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Walt Disney. They have been inducted twice into the Dance Music Hall of Fame as well as the R&B Hall of Fame. In 2005, Gamble & Huff appeared on American Idol in a show devoted entirely to their music. In 2008, Gamble & Huff were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the first recipients of the newly created Ahmet Ertegün Award.