The Rhythm & Blues Foundation kicks off its 20th anniversary celebration this weekend with a series of events in Philadelphia. It all leads up to the foundation's annual Pioneer Awards on Sept. 9 at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts.

Getting the celebration under way tonight (Sept. 5) is the “Icons of Soul" event. Staged at the city’s African American Museum, the exhibit and reception will showcase photos of doo-wop and R&B stars by photographer Mark Delcostello.

Rounding out the special weekend are a tour of the original “American Bandstand” studios (Sept. 7) and a special screening of the seminal concert film “Wattstax” (Sept. 8).

This year’s slate of Pioneer Award honorees includes Chaka Khan (lifetime achievement), Teena Marie, Bill Withers and Sugar Pie DeSanto (individual award), Kool & the Gang and the Whispers (group award), the Funk Brothers (sidemen award), Donny Hathaway (legacy award) and former Stax executive Al Bell (leadership award).

Co-hosting the ceremony are Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt and Jerry Butler.

Butler, chairman emeritus of the Philadelphia-based Rhythm & Blues Foundation, says the original intent for organization was “to make sure that early R&B artists like Charles Brown received their fair share” in royalty payments.

Since then, the foundation’s mission has expanded to include medical help and special recognition for artists’ career achievements. Also in the works is a hall of fame/museum complex spearheaded by legendary producer Kenny Gamble.

While the foundation has made inroads during the last 20 years, Butler says there are more goals to accomplish. “To have a lasting organization, we need to get to the point where more people can and will participate,” he says.

“Look at the [Barack] Obama camp and how much money it’s been able to generate through the Internet. Once people understand our story and what we’re trying to do, we can secure more funds for financial and medical assistance as well as continue to recognize deserving -- yet often ignored -- artists and industry executives,” Butler continues.

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