More than 1,000 members of Jack and Jill of America Inc. are slated to convene in Philadelphia for the organization’s 40th national convention this week.
It will be held under the theme “Living the Legacy: Honoring Our Past, Celebrating Our Present, Securing Our Future” July 24–29 at Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.
The event, which marks the organization’s 75th anniversary, is expected to draw 1,500 attendees and have an economic impact of $3.2 million.
National Jack and Jill President Tara Joseph-Labrie will preside over the convention, which will include the election of national officers and leadership development.
“This is the largest-attended convention that we’ve had in Jack and Jill’s history, and I’m just delighted to be the national president and be the host and serve as the chair,” said Joseph-Labrie.
“This convention will highlight our history, our members, our achievements and the partnerships we have forged over the years. We look forward to sharing our extraordinary history and allowing everyone throughout the Greater Philadelphia region to have an opportunity to learn about our impact as we gather in Philadelphia for this milestone event.”
Jack and Jill will host a teen summit titled “Aim to Live, Lead and Succeed” on July 24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Children from the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Club have been invited to attend the summit, which will feature a keynote address by Marlon Smith, founder of Street Academics, a high school youth mentoring program.
A convention highlight includes a public meeting July 25 from 5:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown’s Grand Ballroom. Valerie B. Jarrett, senior adviser to President Barack Obama will be the featured speaker. Lifetime achievement awards will be presented to poet Sonia Sanchez and music legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Mayor Michael Nutter and representatives from the region’s National Pan-Hellenic Council’s fraternities and sororities are expected to attend.
Joseph-Labrie says community service projects are an important aspect of this year’s convention.
“I am a true believer that Jack and Jill was founded not only for the principle of the social and educational activities, but more importantly for the philanthropy, and to ensure that our children truly understand the importance of giving back,” she said.
With that in mind, members of Jack and Jill will renovate a local elementary school library during the convention.
Members from Jack and Jill chapters in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have led the convention steering committee.
“It is with enormous pride that we welcome our members and their families to Philadelphia. This committee has worked extremely hard to ensure that everyone has an interactive and educational experience during their stay in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection,” said Henri G. Moore, chair of the steering committee.
“We look forward to our members having an enjoyable time while they carry out the business of Jack and Jill, and are empowered to return to their communities ready to make a positive and lasting impact,” said Moore.
In addition to attending meetings and participating in community service projects, convention attendees will visit regional attractions such as the Franklin Institute and the New Jersey State Aquarium.
Members of Jack and Jill say the organization has enabled their children to form longstanding friendships and prepares them for the future.
Steering committee co-chair Shelly Pullian appreciates how it is helping to prepare her children for future leadership roles.
“We are training leaders of tomorrow. Once our children become teens they actually learn how to become leaders of the organization. We do a lot of leadership building. We do a lot of financial awareness building so that our children are prepared to enter the world and be active members of society,” said Pullian.
Sandy Booth, a former president of the Jack and Jill Philadelphia chapter, joined the organization three years ago. Her daughter and stepson have participated in activities such as holiday brunches and ski trips.
“My family has really enjoyed our association. My daughter has made some of her best friends in Jack and Jill,” said Booth.
“It not only gives opportunities for our kids to be involved, but for mothers to be involved in governance of the organization and steering the direction of the group.”
Jack and Jill was founded in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, 1938, by 20 African-American mothers who wanted their children to have cultural opportunities, develop leadership skills and form social networks.
Today the organization has more than 220 chapters whose families represent 30,000 family members. Membership is by invitation only and is open to mothers of children between the ages of 2 and 19.
The organization’s national programming thrust, AIM for Healthy Living, is designed to engage and encourage children to live healthy lifestyles through chapter programming and decrease the risk of preventable diseases that disproportionately impact the African-American community.
Chapters hold cultural activities, leadership training and legislative and social events for their children, while hosting fundraisers to support the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm that has distributed millions of dollars to communities across the country since its inception in 1968.
Notable Jack and Jill alumnae include actresses Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, Betty Shabazz and Dr. Lilia Abron, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in chemical engineering.
Philadelphia is set to honor the man behind the “hippest trip in America” with an attempt at breaking the world record for largest Soul Train line. Organizers envision the event as a way to commemorate the passing of “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius — as well as offer a time for local “Soul Train” fans to gather, express “Philadelphia love” and honor the city’s own special place in soul music history.
The idea for a world-record commemoration was sparked on Facebook, where interest in organizing such an attempt in Philadelphia went viral. The current record — of 211 people — is held by a group of high school students, staff and alumni in Berkley, Calif. “Considering how Philly responded to events like Live Aid, Unity Day, Million Woman March, Welcome America and our normal annual events, I thought, '211? We can do that,’” said radio host Manwell Glenn, on whose Facebook page the idea took hatch. Unlike last week’s spontaneous and flash-mob Soul Train lines in Chicago and New York respectively, Philadelphia’s effort is designed and organized to make a statement: There is no better place for world-wide recognition of soul music appreciation than the City of Brotherly Love.
“Don Cornelius and ‘Soul Train’ is synonymous with our childhood,” recalled Glenn, 50. “It reminds me of Saturdays when all of us gathered around the TV, watching ‘Soul Train,’ doing the dance steps, pointing out our favorite dancers, the going outside and try and mimic the 'Robot' (dance) and everything. Yeah, we would laugh at some of the cloths...it just makes me feel good about an era in my life and a time when I was young, happy and carefree. I was a teenager, and his death reminded me of all of those moments, and my friends who aren't here now. It made me reminisce, and I want to share that feel good moment.”
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff recorded "TSOP" (The Sound of Philadelphia) with MFSB, the Philadelphia International Records house band, and the Three Degrees singing the vocal parts in 1974. Within months, the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and on the Hot Soul Singles chart—and Cornelius, according to Huff, regretted that he didn't let the duo use "Soul Train" in the tune's official title.
"Philadelphia, The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection is a grand music mecca, as well as the birthplace of the Soul Train theme written by the legendary duo of Gamble & Huff,” Dyana Williams, co-host of “Soulful Sunday” on WRNB-FM. “With the world's largest “Soul Train” line this coming Monday, we will honor the legacy and indelible cultural impression left on billions by Don Cornelius and ‘Soul Train!’” Cornelius, 75, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Feb. 1. He had suffered from health problems, a difficult divorce, and had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge in 2009. A private memorial service for Cornelius is scheduled to take place this week in Los Angeles.
The fee to apply to Guinness World Records, which accepted the group’s application on Tuesday, Feb. 7, was promptly pledged by a group of sponsors and Radio One will serve as the radio host for the event. “It’s Soul Train and Don Cornelius. Everybody wants to get involved,” said Glenn.
The mass dance event at breaking the world record for largest “Soul Train” line will take place on Monday, Feb. 13 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 4 p.m. For more information, tune in to Dyana Williams' “Soulful Sunday” on 100.3 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or visit Facebook: The Philly World Record Soul Train Line Gang www.facebook.com/groups/.
It’s another record for Philadelphia — the longest “Soul Train” line — officially noted by Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday when he accepted a certificate issued by the Guinness Book of World Records.
“We have a lot going on in Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “But, sometimes we just need to celebrate.”
The mayor, against the advice of all his advisors, he said, took part in the “Soul Train” line last February and noted that it was magical moment for participants.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It really felt like the whole city had come together for one unique moment.”
A crowd of 291 people took part in the “Soul Train” line on Feb. 13, 2012 in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in honor of “Soul Train” creator and host Don Cornelius, who died last year. Philadelphia’s record beat the previous record of 211 people set in by students and staff at Beverly Hills High School.
“We figured that was a number we could beat,” said Sheila Simmons, one of the event organizers present at Wednesday’s press conference.
She vowed — as did several others present — that Philly would fight to keep the record, which was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records last month.
“This record belongs in Philadelphia,” she said.
Mannwell Glenn, the man behind the record breaking idea, agreed.
“You can come after this record if you want — but we’re going to keep it,” he said.
More than 2,000 people showed up at the event last winter, many dressed in Afro wigs and bell bottoms to honor Cornelius, host of the long-running TV show “Soul Train.”
He was a music legend, as was the show’s theme song “TSOP” (The Sound of Philadelphia) which ran in the background during the press event.
TSOP was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who recorded it with MFSB, the Philadelphia International Records house band, with the Three Degrees singing the vocal parts in 1974. In just a few months the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
The 75-year-old Cornelius committed suicide on Feb. 1, 2012. He had been suffering from health problems, a difficult divorce, and had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge in 2009.
The circumstances surrounding his death did nothing to change his legacy, said E. Steven Collins, one of the organizers of the “Soul Train” event.
“He was a great person,” Collins said, noting that in his final days Cornelius was in a great deal of physical pain.
Walter "Bunny" Sigler, the singer, songwriter and producer responsible for such hits as "(You Are My) Sunshine," "You Got Your Hooks in Me" and "Let Me Make Love to You" by the O'Jays, as well as "Somebody Loves You, Baby" and "Love, Need and Want You" by Patti La Belle, is celebrating the holiday season with a superb new CD of his own titled "When You're in Love at Christmas Time."
Preceded by "The Lord's Prayer" in 2008 as well as "From Bunny with Love & A Little Soul" and "The 23rd Psalm" in 2011, "When You're in Love at Christmas Time," a 12-track creative collaboration with Bryant Pugh, Musical Director at Philadelphia's Sharon Baptist Church, was inadvertently inspired by Lloyd Zane Remick, who has served as Sigler's attorney for approximately 40 years.
"He wanted me to start with 'Auld Lang Syne,'" Sigler said during a recent visit to the Philadelphia Tribune offices. "I said, 'If I do 'Auld Lang Syne' that's only going to be for a week. I might as well do a Christmas album.' He was talking about next year, and he put the suggestion in my head. I've got my own studio, I've got my [band], and before he knew it, I had it half done, and then he started liking it. The title track, I wrote with Bryant Pugh. He works with Richard Smallwood, but he's been at Sharon for years. He did 'The Lord's Prayer, he did 'The 23rd Psalm,' so he's been my right hand man. I've got (guitarist) Randy Bowland - he's on everything. My engineer is Raymond Earl. Raymond used to be with Instant Funk."
The disc includes familiar sounds of the season including "Little Drummer Boy," "The Christmas Song," "O Holy Night" and "Ave' Maria," in addition to unique renditions of traditional sacred songs and carols arranged by Pugh and Richie Rome, mastermind behind disco divas, The Richie Family. Sigler contributed the original compositions "When You're in Love at Christmas Time," "Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday' and "A Christmas Dream."
This marks the first Christmas album for the personable, flamboyant and fashionable North Philly native, who was given his unusual nickname as an infant by his mother, who discovered that her baby had a fully developed tooth in his mouth, making him look like a little bunny rabbit.
Sigler's most memorable work has been under the banner of Philadelphia International Records, the celebrated label established in 1971 by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. When asked what he believes is his greatest contribution to "The Sound of Philadelphia," Sigler quickly responded, "The love songs, and it wasn't confined just to one artist. I wrote love songs for the O'Jays, love songs for Patti La Belle — all of them were Number Ones, and a Number One for Shirley Jones —'Do You Get Enough Love?' which was written for the O'Jays, but they were out of town, and Shirley got the song."
Sigler's work has also caught on with a new generation, and in 2002, "Love, Need and Want You" previously recorded by Patti La Belle, was sampled by Kelly Rowland and Nelly, and "Dilemma" reached Number One on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart.
While his catalog of songs is a great source of pride for Sigler, who scored a major hit of his own in 1967 with "Let the Good Times Roll," he adds that he also contributed vocally to the renowned and recognizable Philly Sound.
"I did a lot of stuff in the background," he said. "I'm singing background on 'If You Don't Know Me By Now' [Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes]. That's me, Kenny and Huff. Most of the Stylistics — me, Carl Helm and Kenny Gamble. Archie Bell, 'Gonna Be a Showdown,' — that's me Kenny and Huff." Sigler also contributed vocal arrangements for numerous recordings released by the company.
While he still enjoys performing, Sigler is now focused on developing the next generation of entertainers. "What I would like to accomplish is to get my company with my lawyer really going," he said. "It's really moving now, and he said we waited until we got in our 70s to want a company and do all this! I'm doing something with [my] band. I'm going to cut them. I'm even looking for a new artist to be in front — like a girl who can sing and rap.
"I was telling my lady, I said, 'I think I'm going to retire. I'm tired of doing this.' But as an entertainer, when you do that, you're getting ready to push the daisies! You can't retire! If you stop, your life is over!"
For more information, to listen to excerpts from Bunny Sigler's "When You're in Love at Christmas Time" or to purchase this uplifting Christmas collection, visit www.bunzmusicandrecords.com.
Despite countless gold and platinum records, as well as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his longtime partner Kenny Gamble in 2008 as recipients of the inaugural Ahmet Ertegun Award, songwriter, producer and musician Leon Huff is still “Here to Create Music,” as the title of his 1980 solo album suggests. His recent connection with vocal group Ju-Taun, of Williamstown, N.J., has reignited that passion.
Huff, who recently released another solo project titled “Groovy People,” is mentoring the group, which is comprised of siblings Jake and James “Jamie” Evans, who are half Puerto Rican, along with their close friend, Samaouen (pronounced “Simone”) Cheng, who is originally from Cambodia.
Ju-Taun (pronounced “Ja-Taan”) is signed to Climax Entertainment, a joint venture between Huff and David Still, and Huff has produced a trio of Christmas classics with the group, including “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“It’s on I-Tunes. It’s great,” said Huff, who plays piano on the tracks. The music is also available on other online outlets such as Amazon.com.
During a recent visit to the Tribune offices along with their road manager Stan Golden, the talented singers explained their unusual name. “When we first started the group, we wanted something that was unique, because our group was so multi-national and so diverse,” said Jamie, the younger of the two Evans brother. “We wanted a name that reflected that, but also was different and didn’t identify with anything else. We felt that our sound and our style was different than anything else, so we just came up with something that sounded that way.”
Huff first saw Ju-Taun at one of the weekly talents shows that were taking place at TSOP Experience, located next to Philadelphia International Records’ historic headquarters at 309 S. Broad Street. “One of those weeks, I came and they were there. I liked the image, the sound — everything,” Huff said. “The sound is very commercial — they’ve got a great look. They’re right up there with today’s contemporary image. They’re great guys — clean cut, good stage presence, and I’m going to work with them.”
“We found out later that was actually his first time at the show,” Jake said. “He watched us live and he came backstage to talk to us. First thing he said was, ‘I got a song for y’all called ‘Walk Between the Raindrops,’ and we‘re like, ‘Cool!’ It was an honor for us to be singing in front of him because our father’s a musician, he played with Chubby Checker. He’s always been a huge Leon Huff fan, specifically for his playing style. We always grew up hearing their music. He used to make us learn a lot of TSOP songs… ‘You’ve got to pay tribute to the hometown!’ So it was just weird to be now performing in front of him, and then for him to actually respect what we do and want to work with us!”
Some of the production on Huff’s “Groovy People,” took place at the Evans Brothers’ Tru Sounds Studio in Camden, N.J., and Ju-Taun is featured on renditions of “Hey There, Lonely Girl,” as well as the Temptations classic, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
The group’s deep respect and appreciation for Philly’s musical legacy grew even stronger when they had the opportunity to meet and converse with engineer extraordinaire Joe Tarsia, who was at the sound board for the lion’s share of the hits on Gamble & Huff Philadelphia International label, as well as legendary drummer Earl Young, one of the final remaining links to the golden era of “The Sound of Philadelphia.”
“Sometimes I wish that we were still in that era because there was such a different type of organic-ness to the music,” said Jamie. “When you’re bringing all those human elements together as opposed to just maybe one or two people sitting there at a computer or doing whatever they’re doing, when you have all that energy in one room, it just brings something different to the music.”
With Huff’s guidance, the group plans to incorporate that energy into their own sound, fusing it with some of their own ideas. “I don’t want to say bring back the old, but kind of like keep it relevant, but also mix in some new,” said Jamie. “Give it a freshness,” Jake added. “But expose people more to what that type of music brought. The inspiration that it brought, and the positivity that it brought as opposed to a lot of the newer stuff. I think the biggest thing with us is that we want to do what we feel.”
As the iconic Huff builds on his own musical legacy, he can barely contain his excitement over ushering in a new era of the Philly Sound and said in conclusion, “I want to wish everybody happy holidays, and be on the lookout for Climax Entertainment, because some great music is going to be coming through there!”
Twenty-six years ago, the Philadelphia Tribune named Gordon Brown Jr. the youngest gospel music promoter in Philadelphia. As minister, label executive, producer and award-winning songwriter, G. Brown (his stage name), is rebranding himself for a new role in the music industry.
Brown will release the single “Love is Coming Back” on iTunes on August 1.This urban gospel song is remake of the classic McFadden and Whitehead song “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Described as a mixture of traditional gospel, a pitch of rhythm and blues and a tossing of what Brown said is God’s anointing, the track is geared to youth and urban communities.
“It’s kind of like Kirk Franklin, that’s the demographic that I’m looking to gravitate to, but my style is more like Hawkins, Smallwood with a little bit of Donny and Boys II Men blended all in together,” Brown said.
Along with the single, Brown has written 48 songs — about three CDs worth of music — that he plans to release as an artist until 2018.
Helping to produce the single with Brown are his nephew, Antonie McRae and producer and keyboardist Christopher Weatherbe. He has worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, Vivian Green, Floetry, Jaguar Wright and Kindred.
“Whatever his vision is, I just want to bring it to life. I don’t have any self-ambition. He wants to give an inspirational song out with a message about love,” Weatherbe said.
Learning through experience
The South Philadelphia native began his music career as a teenager deeply rooted in gospel music. As a student at Vare Edwin H. Middle School, Brown’s physical education teacher was Gabriel Hardeman — leader of Gabriel Hardeman Delegation whose record, “Feels Like Fire” gave them fame. Several weeks into the school year, Brown attended his aunt’s wedding. Hardeman was one of the ushers and the groom was the drummer for the Hardeman Delegation.
After this interaction, Brown persisted to get involve with the band. In 1982, Brown became the band’s stagehand. Through the mentorship of Hardeman and his wife Annette, Brown learned how to write songs that later won Brown five American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awards.
At 16, Brown created a group, The Gordon Brown Singers, and was a music promoter for the Wynne Plaza. There, he was responsible for booking gospel acts at the Wynnefield venue. Brown then worked for Tony Beck, owner and president of MeeSiah Records — an independent gospel label. Also, Brown was an executive assistant for music producer, Nick Martinelli, and served as Martinelli’s manager for a brief period. In 1991, he received more industry experience under gospel legend, Dr. Edwin Hawkins.
Despite the mentorship and success he was receiving, Brown’s career was interrupted.
In 1998, Brown was imprisoned. While serving a 14-year sentence, he earned a doctorate in theology. Six months ago Brown was released, and he plans to continue to his career.
“Instead of being bitter, I feel blessed. I got great vision from God,” Brown said. “When you spend 14 years in prison you get a lot of ideas that God has time to give you great vision.”
Bringing a rebirth to Philadelphia
Using vision and revelation, Brown also works as the creative director for Philly Style Studio.
“It’s in the community. You don’t know it’s a studio, and you’re not abandoning the community. Every community has a local rapper or local singer and they can come right here and get a nice demo,” Brown said.
Located on 18th and Morris streets, Brown said he wants Philly Style Studios to create resurgence in Philadelphia.
“I just love Philly, but we have nothing going on musically in the city. In the beginning it was Motown, then Philadelphia International,” Brown said. “We have Jill, Musiq and Tye Tribbett, but I just want to bring that attention and that draw back to the city. Basically putting Philly back in its place.”
And with help of PSS owner, Henry “Bubby” Nicholas, Brown’s vision is beginning to come to fruition. Currently, Nicolas is gathering talent for The Entourage — a collective of musicians, dancers, R&B singers and rappers.
“He’s got so much energy. He’s my favorite,” Nicholas said.
“When I came on board here, his vision with the studio and the Entourage verse my vision on a creative level and an artist level was just a perfect fit,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like what Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff did in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s kind of what he and I are trying to do now.”
In mid-August, PSS and Zoah Music Group Worldwide (Brown’s music label) will have an Internet talent search of gospel, R&B and hip hop artists.
“It’s basically going to be American Idol online, but for those genres,” Brown said.
Fifty submissions will be chosen to participate. With the public’s help, 25 acts will be chosen. Of those, 15 will be eliminated and the remaining 10 will face off for the final phase of the competition judged by PSS and ZMGW.
First prize will be a recording contract with ZMGW, second prize will be a recording contract for a single with ZMGW and third prize will be a production video at PSS.
If you’re a fan of The Sound of Philadelphia or of great music in general, you won’t want to miss “Joe Tarsia: Sophisticated Soul,” the next installment of “Danny’s Guitar Shop,” airing at 10 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22 on the WHYY “Y Arts” channel (check local listings).
Hosted by Danny Gold, owner of Danny’s Guitar Shop in Narberth, the 30-minute music magazine explores the creative contributions of Philadelphia’s Chairman of the Board, Joe Tarsia, founder of the legendary Sigma Sound Studios.
An integral part of the development of the Sound of Philadelphia, Tarsia recalled working with the iconic Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff on carefully crafted classics such as “For the Love of Money,” “Bad Luck,” “Only the Strong Survive” and “I’ll Always Love My Mama.”
Sitting at the sound board with Gold, Tarsia wore a wistful smile as he listened to “Backstabbers,” the first breakout hit for the O’Jays, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. After a track-by-track analysis of the record, Tarsia said, “This started everything. After this, it was one hit after the other.”
He also shared inside stories on the production of other hits including “You’ll Never Find” by Lou Rawls and “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, as well as “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” another hot track by the Blue Notes featuring rugged lead vocals by Teddy Pendergrass. “You’d have to be a pretty lousy engineer not to capture this!” he Tarsia said.
When Gold asked if he had any Teddy Pendergrass stories he could actually share on camera, Tarsia, clearly struck by a wave of nostalgia, laughed and said, “Women would literally fall all over him. I remember doing sessions where there would be maybe five or six beautiful ladies sitting in the control room watching him sing, and he seemed to sing better for it. He had that growl — women loved a tall, handsome guy.”
What makes this episode of “Danny’s Guitar Shop” outstanding is that Gold, who is a musician, and Tarsia focus on the gifted instrumentalists who made the Gamble & Huff recordings so exceptional, yet for the most part are unknown and unrecognized. Both Tarsia and Gold took time to analyze and acknowledge the contributions of the extraordinary rhythm section of Ron Baker (bass), Norman Harris (guitar) and Earl Young (drums), as well as percussionist Vince Montana, best known for his work on vibes.
“I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but I called Motown ‘Black bubble gum,’ and I called the Memphis Sound truly ‘soul’ music, and Philadelphia I called ‘Sophisticated Soul,’ if that makes any sense. That’s the way I saw it, but each one had its own character,” Tarsia said.
The informative half-hour retrospective full of vintage photographs, timeless music and fond memories went by all too quickly, and the legendary Joe Tarsia summed it up by saying, “It’s exciting to think that a community out of Philadelphia, the music they produced was heard around the world.”
As we celebrate the legacy and the memory of Michael Jackson, who would have celebrated his 54th birthday on August 29, I take great pride in the fact that Philadelphia played a significant role in his emergence as a prolific songwriter and producer.
With a catalog of hits that includes "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Beat it," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel" and of course the unforgettable "Billie Jean," Jackson's first lessons in crafting a song and producing a record came under the tutelage of the prolific Kenneth "Kenny" Gamble & Leon Huff, while in Philly to record "The Jacksons" and "Goin' Places," their first two albums following their departure from Motown Records in 1975. Jermaine, who had married the boss' daughter, Hazel Gordy, chose to remain at Motown and was replaced by youngest brother, Stephen Randall, also known as Randy.
When the Jacksons were negotiating with CBS, they expressed an interest in writing and producing their own music, which was not an option at Motown. On the two albums, released jointly on the Philadelphia International/Epic label, Gamble and Huff not only gave them that opportunity, but actually began to teach them the rudiments of songwriting and producing.
"I encouraged people," said Gamble, whom, along with Huff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall in 2008. "I always thought that Huff and I, we could stand the competition. We had to be strong, so me and Huff, we encouraged young writers to be producers and get off on their own, and look at the business as a business."
Since Gamble and his partner insisted on rehearsals during the recording process, Philly became a temporary home for the Jacksons, who took up residence at the Latham Hotel while they worked on their new music. In the studio, Gamble and Huff made sure that each of the brothers had his moment in the spotlight.
"We didn't just use Michael, we had Jackie, we had Marlon, we had them all singing so that all the weight didn't just fall on Michael," said Gamble. "I can remember writing for them, and the songs that Huff and I were writing for them were songs like 'Let Me Show You the Way to Go' and 'Enjoy Yourself,' and a couple of other songs, and Michael loved them. One was called 'Man of War.' 'Man of War' was one of his favorite songs, 'cause our whole thing was messages. 'Message in the music,' and that's what Michael wanted to do. He said, 'Man, you know? I want to do some messages.'
Judging from heartfelt hits such as "Heal the World," "Earth Song" and "We Are the World," which would eventually come, Gamble & Huff set the example and laid the foundation for some of Jackson's greatest work.
Jackson's first effort was the innocent and effervescent "Blues Away," which would become his first credit as a professional songwriter.
"Michael wrote that song, and I think McFadden & Whitehead and myself," said Gamble. "He needed help with it, so we all got in the studio with him because he played piano a little bit. So when he played the song on the piano and he was telling me how he wanted it to go, I said, 'You do it,' and I left the studio and let him do it, and he did an excellent job!
"I came back in when he started to overdub his voice, and he had all these great ideas about how to record his voice, like doubling his voice, doing all kinds of little ad libs and whatever. He had it all thought out in his head. As a matter of fact, they had two songs on each album. They had 'Blues Away' and 'You've Got to Change Your Style of Life.' Michael wrote 'Blues Away' by himself. 'You've Got to Change Your Style of Life,' all the brothers, they wrote it together.
"And so the conclusion that I came up with, after listening to them, I told Michael and Tito and the rest of them, 'You know, you guys need to express yourselves, and whatever I can do to help you, I'll help you.' They were extremely talented, and I told Ron Luxemburg from Epic [Records], 'These guys need to produce themselves,' because they had a sound in their heads.
"Then, the first album that they produced on themselves was 'Destiny,' but the song that was in it was 'Shake Your Body Down to the Ground," and I was like, 'Man!' Because their whole thing was dancing! It was a great experience, and Michael used to thank me for showing him how to put a song together."
"He was such a shy person," Gamble said of the late "King of Pop." "This guy was such a shy person, but also a very bold person, 'cause he was deep inside — you know how you have something going on? Well, eventually, look what happened. I mean, this guy became the biggest artist in the world! Ever, in the history of the business!"
As we remembered Michael Jackson, whose sudden death on June 25, 2009 shocked and saddened the world, Gamble recalled the very first time he saw a little boy perform on the stage of Philadelphia's historic Uptown Theater, referring to him as "a phenomenon."
"It's very seldom that you find a young 12, 13 year old boy that can sing like that," he said. "I mean, he had a tremendous voice — this was no kiddie game! This was real singing, and he often gave credit to James Brown and to Smokey Robinson. These are the people that he studied. He studied those people and incorporated all that stuff into himself. He just had something special. It's just that simple. It's just a shame that he's gone, but the thing of it is, who knows when that's going to happen to any of us? But yeah. This guy, he was something special."
Philadelphia native Vikter Duplaix has woven global culture, independent thought, fine arts and progressive music into a purely golden lifestyle. The Grammy-nominated singer, producer, DJ and lifestyle event curator is currently co-starring on the BET reality DJ competition series “Smirnoff’s Master of the Mix” and is hard at work on his third studio album, “LOVEmachine,” set for release in 2013. Duplaix, who is also a Philly 360 Ambassador, honed his craft on the streets of Philadelphia along with turntable legends DJs Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money.
“It was something that was in my blood from day one,” said Duplaix from his Venice Beach, Calif., home. “Everything in my life has been associated with music — including my mother being a music teacher. It’s something that doesn’t need a lot of thought from me; it’s a part of what I am and what I do and it will always be that way to some degree: either making it, talking about it or just admiring it, you know. I am very strongly connected to the Black lineage of music creator in this country because of my experience growing up in Philadelphia and being tutored by the legends like Gamble and Huff and DJ Jazzy Jeff and those that were before me. That’s my perspective.”
Duplaix describes himself as a “producer, singer, programmer” and uses drum machines to create basic grooves, and then he collaborates with “other great musicians,” including multi-Grammy-winning songwriter, musician and multi-platinum producer James Poysner. “Most throughout my career I’ve worked with James Poysner, and we have a very great understanding of how to enhance each others creativity.”
Being raised in both Philadelphia and Augusta, Ga., and singing in church choirs, Duplaix has the traditional soul singer’s assessment of the ebb and flow of music tastes. “I ultimately believe it’s got to go back to music that feels good,” notes Duplaix. “We’ve been in a 10-year run where everything sounds good — it’s modern and bright and technology has made it sound better and more clear and have more bass then ever before — but I think that we need to get back to musicianship (and not necessary horn sections and strings like Gamble and Huff), but it still needs to have the humanity in the music so we can connect to it a little better, combined with how modern technology has enhanced the listening experience.”
In Thefuture.fm mix series called “The Modern Textures Vol. 1,” Duplaix gives a visually rhythmic and melodic experience. The unique Internet radio platform is the first of its kind to automate the process of legally tracking mixed audio, opening access for music fans to legally and easily find, share and enjoy mixtapes, while removing the liability for DJs and advertisers who want to monetize the mixtape on the Web or at live events. The platform allows consumers to search, discover, follow, purchase tracks and stream whole mixes from over 5,000 DJs across any style or genre.
“It’s something that is very progressive because this give you an opportunity to click on what you like and get it at that moment, instead of you scratching your head wondering or forget about it later,” explained Duplaix. “Essentially, it’s about sounds that move you and take you places. This particular mix begins with a deep house music flow then it breaks down into an atmospheric beat generation/mid-tempo futuristic groove. This mix will hopefully give you enough of each song to enjoy the creativity of each track and wet your palette for more.”
For more information, visit www.Thefuture.fm.
In an effort to provide opportunities for up-and-coming artists in an interactive way, BATCAVE Studio hosted a music review at The Arts Garage, located at 1533 Ridge Ave., drawing a large crowd of people eager to hear Philly talent.
Nicholas “Biz” Porter of BATCAVE Studio co-hosted the review with Dwayne Murchison, a producer known as “Wiz Gamb,” to create a space for artists to have their music reviewed by attendees and a number of people representing various industries. With a total of 10 acts participating, the crowd was lively as artists took the stage.
“As for the review itself, it went excellent,” Porter said.
The event consisted of a large Philly audience intermingled with representatives from various media groups, bloggers and record label Ruffhouse Records.
Wiz Gamb and the crowd also showed their appreciation has he announced the presence of community activist Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston, a veteran in the entertainment industry and creator of “Charlie Mack Party 4 Peace Celebrity Weekend.”
Alston felt it is important to have events of this kind in the city.
“I think it’s important for a number of reasons — that people see a possibility for a chance of life outside of Philadelphia. I think I represent the possibility, I represent a realistic opportunity for you to actually take your career and take it on to something grand and national and international — I like to call myself that bridge,” he said. “I think this is a really great night, there’s a lot of people out and I definitely credit it to Biz and BATCAVE Studio.”
Among the 10 participating performers were, Graviti Ent., FChain, Von, Philly Chase and Susan Bilodeau “Suzyn B.”
Suzyn B, hailing from Virginia, learned of the review from following Porter on Twitter. She performed hits from Teena Marie and Adele and felt reviews like this should be held in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. area.
“I enjoyed myself, I performed all classics, Teena Marie ‘Lovergirl’ and then I performed [songs] by hero Adele — I wanted to show my versatility,” she said. “This is my first time here, love and respect for the DMV but Maryland don’t know anything about what’s going on here — and it wasn’t nothing without no big beautiful girl.”
In addition to the 10 selected artists, BATCAVE organized performances from artists, Yazz the Greatest, Chinko Da Great and Inner City Hustlers (I.C.H).
While keeping the environment upbeat in between acts, the co-hosts also encouraged community engagement by giving away money for parents to buy schoolbooks for their children.
Porter was happy with the event and was pleased with the exposure for the artists.
“It was specifically made to get certain people there in a non panel atmosphere and get the fans there in a different way. I wanted to create an event called a review, I’m on the outside reviewing their whole participation, like how they react to record labels,” he said. “The response was overwhelming — Ruffhouse Records showed a heavy interest Chinko Da Great, an artist I promote.”
With a variety of performances, networking and mingling, the audience had the opportunity to see local talent.
“This is the home of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, everybody that is successful within the music business, even if they’re not from Philadelphia, has somebody intricately involved in their career from Philly,” Alston said. “You have to have someone from Philadelphia inside your camp, that’s probably what I’m most proud of from Philadelphia.”