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Thom Bell, ‘Sound of Philadelphia’ producer, dead at 79

Thom Bell, the Grammy-winning producer who heavily influenced Philadelphia soul music, died Thursday. He was 79.

His lawyer, Michael Silver, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Bell passed away at his home in Bellingham, Washington. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Bell, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff worked together to create “The Sound of Philadelphia” in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

“Tommy and I have been best friends for over 60 years,” Gamble said in a statement to the Inquirer. “When we first met, we decided to start writing songs together and form a singing duo, Kenny and Tommy, and then our band, The Romeos. Leon Huff and I were proud to have him as part of our Mighty Three music-writing team, which helped create our signature brand of TSOP.

Thom Bell speaks onstage during the GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends at Beacon Theatre on July 11, 2017, in New York City.
Thom Bell speaks onstage during the Grammy Salute to Music Legends event at Beacon Theatre on July 11, 2017, in New York City.
Getty Images for NARAS

“He was a great talent and my dear friend. The name of Gamble, Huff and Bell will last forever. Rest in peace, buddy!”

Huff told the outlet: ”Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter and music producer of all time! It was my esteem, honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”

Born to two musicians in Jamaica on Jan. 26, 1943, Bell was raised in West Philadelphia with nine brothers and sisters. He studied classical piano, but would eventually venture into the pop space.

He and Gamble started playing together in the group Kenny & the Romeos. Huff replaced Bell on piano when he left the band.

An arranger and songwriter, Bell worked as a staff writer and touring conductor for Chubby Checker. He also produced the Delfonics’ hits “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”

His other songwriting credits include “I Can’t Take It” by the Orlons; and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” with Linda Creed.

He also arranged the strings in the O’Jays’ 1972 hit “Back Stabbers.” The band was on Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records label.

Thom Bell, inductee during 37th Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony - Show and Dinner at Marriott Marquis in New York City/
Bell died Thursday. A cause of death was not immediately announced.
WireImage for Songwriter’s Hall

“I’m a very independent guy,” Bell told The Inquirer in 2020. “I’m not a follower. I’m a leader, and the person I want to lead is me.” He often repeated his personal motto: “You never can tell when you’re with the Bell.”

He did collaborate with Elton John, Teddy Pendergrass, Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis throughout his career. He also worked with Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Anthony & The Imperials, and Dusty Springfield.

Bell was nominated for three Grammy Awards and won for Best Producer of the Year in 1975. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

He is survived by his wife, Vanessa; and his kids, Royal, Troy, Tia, Mark, Cybell and Christopher.

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