Philadelphia soul pioneer Thom Bell dies aged 79

The musician turned producer worked with the Delfonics, the Spinners, the O’Jays and the Stylistics and helped pave the way for disco

Pioneering producer and songwriter Thom Bell has died at the age of 79, Rolling Stone reports. No cause of death was given.

Credited on some of the most indelible hits of the 1970s, including tracks by the Delfonics, the Stylistics and the Spinners, as well as Elton John’s 1979 track Mama Can’t Buy You Love, Bell was known for bringing the sound of Philadelphia soul into the mainstream, along with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Suffusing sophisticated 60s soul sounds with the danceable rhythms of funk, Philadelphia soul paved the way for the disco explosion of the 70s, and was a primary influence for David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans.

Bell, a classically trained musician, began his career as a session musician in Philadelphia, but broke out as a producer after linking up with vocal group the Delfonics, for whom he would produce three hits, including the Grammy-nominated Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).

Throughout the 70s, Bell found even more success producing, writing and arranging for ascendant Philly soul artists, working on hits such as the O’Jays’ Back Stabbers and revitalising the career of former Motown band the Spinners. In 1974, he won the Grammy award for producer of the year, and a year later collaborated with Dionne Warwick on her album Track of the Cat.

Architects of the Philadelphia sound … Bell, centre, with Leon Huff, left, and Kenny Gamble, right, in 1973.
Architects of the Philadelphia sound … Bell, centre, with Leon Huff, left, and Kenny Gamble, right, in 1973. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In a statement provided to Rolling Stone, Gamble said that he and Bell “have been best friends for over 60 years”. “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,” he said. “He was a great talent and my dear friend. Rest in peace buddy.”

Huff added that Bell was his “favourite musician, arranger, songwriter and music producer of all time”: “It was my esteemed honour and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”


Shaad D'Souza

The GuardianTramp

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