Philly Soul History Goes Up in Flames

Gamble and Huff in the place where magic happened
  • Gamble and Huff in the place where magic happened

This isn’t the way it was supposed to end.

In a terribly unfitting finale to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s month-long Black History Month tribute to the Philly soul sound of producers and songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s legendary Philadelphia International Records ironically titled “Only the Strong Survive,” a fire on Sunday caused extensive damage to the building in Philadelphia, where the duo’s offices and recording studio are located.

No one was hurt in the fire, but much memorabilia relating to the history of the seminal label was lost. Officials are saying the fire was deliberately set.

Pointing to the 1979 McFadden & Whitehead hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” which was released on the Philadelphia international label, Gamble and Huff’s press release says they “vow to rebuild the major tourist attraction where Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Chubby Checker and dozens more created worldwide smash hits.”

Their statement continued, “Following a preliminary survey of the monumental brick building, which they first took over in 1970 with legendary producer and songwriter Thom Bell in 1970, Gamble & Huff estimated they have lost approximately 40 percent of the memorabilia that adorned the walls, filled their offices and was kept in storage closets. The losses include numerous Gold and Platinum records and PIR’s personal inventory of CDs by Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Patti LaBelle and Lou Rawls.

“Gamble & Huff consider it a “blessing” that the third floor recording studio, where countless hit songs were partially created in conjunction with Sigma Sound Studios, appears to have suffered the least damage and may have been completely saved. Its functionality will ultimately be determined by fire officials and PIR technicians.”

Meanwhile, the Rock Hall wraps up its tribute to the determined duo with a Rock and Roll Night School class at 7 tonight in its 4th Floor Foster Theater; the Rock Hall’s director of education Jason Hanley and vice president of education and public programming Dr. Lauren Onkey will talk about Gamble and Huff and their 40-year career working with artists like Harold Melville & the Blue Notes, the Jacksons, Teddy Pendergrass and Northeast Ohio’s O’Jays.

Call 216.515.8426 to RSVP.

The final event of the tribute is a concert by Gerald Alston and Blue Lovett of the Manhattans on the Rock Hall’s lobby stage at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $10 from Ticketmaster. — Anastasia Pantsios

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