Any list of the biggest R&B/Soul labels of the 1970s would include Motown, Stax and Atlantic. These very historic names are instantly reminiscent of a certain image, a stable of artists and chart success.
Sometimes the last of the Big Four—Philadelphia International—gets lost. It was based in the City of Brotherly Love and founded in 1971 by songwriters/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and arranger/producer Thom Bell. Their stable of acts included Jerry Butler, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (with Teddy Pendergrass), the Spinners, the O’Jays, the Stylistics and Lou Rawls.
Last year, the Community Music Center in Houston hosted a celebration of Philly Soul at the Miller Outdoor Theater to a cheering crowd, then sat in socially distanced “pods” on the Great Lawn.
It was so successful that everyone involved said (with apologies to non-Philly Staple Singers) “Let’s do it again.” Philly Soul Sound Vol. 2 arrives at Miller on April 16, this time with the free lawn and covered seats fully open.
“I wanted to do this again because I love music. I love music,” says CMCH Music Director Dr. Anne Lundy. “It was the music of my childhood and it just makes me want to get up, to dance and groove. It makes me feel like I was doing it when I was 20 or 30.
The show will feature 16 live musicians and five rotating singers. For CMCH’s Henry Moseley, also the band’s drummer and father of singer/pianist Viv Moseley, the Philly Sound has a special appeal.
“The full orchestration that Thom Bell wrote was just crazy compared to what was written at Motown. It was funky because of Gamble and Huff, but Thom Bell… I mean, he’s got oboes and let’s bass in the back! And that’s what hooked me when I was a kid when my father played this music and taught me music.
The 14-song list will include some returning favorites from last year like “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”, “For the Love of Money”, “I Love Music , “Close the door,” and “La-La means I love you.” But there are a few new additions, including “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul and a rarer cut, “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head” by Jean Carn.
“We’ve added a few new songs to show how deep Philly International was, including Jean Carn’s song which really excites me because it’s a little different in structure,” Moseley said. “It’s even a bit tricky to play!”
Also, on the list is “Show You the Way to Go” by the Jacksons. It was recorded by the band after leaving their longtime home in Motown (with the name Jackson 5) when new label CBS sent them straight to Philadelphia for an overhaul. “Enjoy Yourself” would be their biggest hit at that time.
Personally, Moseley says he’s most looking forward to performing “I’ll Be Around.” “You can’t get away from the Spinners!” he’s laughing. “Do not even try !”
For Dr. Lundy, his favorite is a coin toss between the show’s opening and closing numbers. “I always love our opening, ‘TSOP’, the theme from Soul Train. When I was a kid I played the violin, I pretended I could play that perfectly!” she says.
“But I also love our closing number, ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ [by McFadden & Whitehead]. It’s one of those message songs, but it’s so upbeat. He says we are going to make this world a better place. He says yes, things are difficult and we take care of things, but we are on the move! I may be an idealist, but I have to believe in it.
The Community Music Center of Houston was founded in 1979 specifically to bring music and music education and programs to the mostly minority youth of Houston’s Third Ward. Dr. Lundy became involved in 1983, as the Houston Press detailed in 2019. Henry Moseley became aware of the organization after seeing her interviewed on television by local Fox 26 presenter Jose Grinan.
“That’s how I got my daughter involved. She was four and five when I saw Dr Lundy. My dad said she had to start piano lessons, so I called CMCH and that’s how she started. She is now a major classical concert pianist,” he says. “There was a need and there is still a need to start young minority musicians, especially in the classical field. And Dr. Lundy’s son and nephews were also in [programs].”
However, the CMCH never had a real permanent home, wandering to various churches, community centers and temporary locations. That changed from last year when after a long fundraising effort from public and private donations, the group purchased the building and land at 3020 Holman. The location is in the heart of the Third Ward, directly across from Blackshear Elementary School and near Riverside General Hospital.
Dr Lundy says the property needs a lot of work and restoration before it can actually start using it and says the past two years of COVID have slowed both progress and fundraising efforts. That’s why one of the goals of Philly Soul Sound Vol. 2 is to make the group, its mission and its needs known to the public. The host of the event will be Paris Eley, station manager and DJ at 1230 KCOH The Source radio.
“I just want people to go out and have a good time and hear this amazing music that means so much to so many people,” Dr. Lundy sums up. “And dance!”
Philly Soul Sound Vol. 2 is at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at the Miller Outdoor Theater, 6000 Hermann Park. For more information, call 832-487-7102 or visit MillerOutdoorTheatre.com. Seating on the lawn is free, but free seated tickets must be pre-booked online.