Kenneth Gamble (born August 11, 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Leon A. Huff (born April 8, 1942, Camden, New Jersey) are an American songwriting and record production team who have written and produced over 170 gold and platinum records. They were pioneers of Philadelphia soul and the in-house creative team for the Philadelphia International Records label. On March 10, 2008 the team was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the non-performer category.
Kenneth Gamble’s childhood in Philadelphia shaped his adult life: he recorded himself on various arcade recording machines, assisted the morning show DJs on WDAS, operated a record store, and sang with The Romeos. In 1964, before there was “Gamble & Huff” there was “Gamble & Ross.” Gamble was discovered and managed by Jerry Ross when Gamble was only 17 years old and they collaborated for many years. Gamble teamed up with Leon Huff (keyboards) for the first time on a recording for Candy & The Kisses. Ross then signed Gamble to Columbia Records in 1963 as a solo recording artist, releasing “You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It”. Gamble & Ross & Huff collaborated on the hit song “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me“, recorded by Dee Dee Warwick and later by Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations.
In 1967 they produced their first Top 5 hit: “Expressway To Your Heart” by The Soul Survivors. Working for Atlantic Records, the team worked with Archie Bell & the Drells, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and The Sweet Inspirations. They also produced Mercury Records artists Jerry Butler and Dee Dee Warwick, scoring numerous hits along the way.
With a solid track record now behind them, Gamble and Huff formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971 as a rival to Berry Gordy and Motown. They originally approached Atlantic Records, which passed on the deal as being too expensive. CBS Records, headed at the time by Clive Davis, backed the venture and distributed Philadelphia International’s records. Aided and abetted by in-house arrangers Thom Bell, Bobby Martin (musician), and Norman Harris, Philadelphia International released a number of the most popular soul music hits of the 1970s, including “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train” by the O’Jays, and the Grammy-winning “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul. According to an interview on BBC Radio Four on 28 June 2006, Gamble and Huff were inspired to write Me and Mrs. Jones after seeing someone they knew who appeared to be involved in an affair, meeting a woman in a cafe frequented by the songwriters.
Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia soul sound evolved from the simpler arrangements of the late-1960s into a style featuring lush strings, thumping basslines, and sliding hi-hat rhythms—elements that soon became the distinguishing characteristics of a new style of music called disco. By 1975, Philadelphia International and the Philadelphia soul genre it helped define had largely eclipsed Motown and the Motown Sound in popularity, and Gamble and Huff were the premiere producers of soul.
Nearly all of the Philadelphia International records featured the work of the label’s in-house band of studio musicians, MFSB. MFSB cut a number of successful instrumental albums and singles written and produced by the Gamble & Huff team and arranged by Bobby Martin, including their 1974 #1 hit “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)“, now best known as the theme song from the American television show Soul Train.
Gamble’s humanitarian work
Through the 1970s, Gamble and Huff continued to work with some of the biggest acts in the music industry, and Gamble in particular began his continuing work to clean up the inner cities and help African-American youth. He also contributed his time and energy to the T.J. Martell Leukemia Foundation and The AMC Cancer Research Center and Hospital. His charitable works and civic efforts continue today. He has served on the board of directors for the Philadelphia Music Foundation, which honors the artists, songwriters, and producers from Philadelphia. His Universal Companies have opened a restaurant, a bookstore, a mosque, low-income housing, and several charter schools. These buildings, mostly built by locally hired labor, have served as the beginnings of a resurgence in the neighborhood. He also helped start the “Clean Up The Ghetto” project, which involved the youth of blighted communities helping with the clean-up and repair of damaged or neglected properties. P.I.R recorded a song using many of their popular artists in support of the project. Started in Philadelphia, “Clean Up The Ghetto” spread to Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, and similar events have been held throughout the country.
In 1975, Philadelphia International became involved in a payola-related scandal; Gamble was fined and Huff was not. By the late 1970s, however, the popularity of the Philadelphia soul sound began to decline. Disco had suffered a backlash, R&B was going back toward the ballad, and rock had returned to the American charts. Still, the label had its share of late 1970s success. Among the later hits were “Enjoy Yourself” by The Jacksons in 1976, and “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead in 1979.
One song they wrote, called “My Mood” was adopted in 1980 as the close of WRC‘s Friday Night 6pm newscasts. As of 2008, WRC still uses this music.
In 1982, Philadelphia International’s biggest star, former Blue Notes singer Teddy Pendergrass, became paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, and the future of the label came to be in doubt. That year, Philadelphia broke its ties with CBS and made a new deal with EMI. Although the hits had by now dried up, Gamble and Huff continued to write and produce for the label’s artists.
1990 finally saw Gamble and Huff recognized with a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, awarded for Simply Red‘s cover of the Blue Notes’ 1972 hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. In 1999, Gamble and Huff were honored with the Grammy Trustees Award, joining musical luminaries like Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Walt Disney. Their career output of over 3,000 songs places them among the most prolific professional songwriters of all time.
Today, Kenneth Gamble continues to write, often with Leon Huff, and Philadelphia International continues. He still lives in South Philadelphia, and remains active in his community. Gamble owns the shuttered Royal Theater and surrounding properties.
On September 19, 2005 Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for their outstanding achievements as producers at a ceremony held in New York City.
Gamble now works as a music instructor at Raising Horizons Quest Charter School.