International Honors For Philadelphia Soul

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have visited the United Kingdom several times during their illustrious writing/production careers, but perhaps never in quite such glorious circumstances as on the afternoon

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have visited the United Kingdom several times during their illustrious writing/production careers, but perhaps never in quite such glorious circumstances as on the afternoon of May 25.

There, in front of a glittering audience of peers and admirers among the British music business, they were presented with the special international award at the 51st Ivor Novello Awards, the highly prestigious flagship event of the songwriting year.

The Ivors, as they are fondly known, are presented annually by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, principally to celebrate the achievements of the best British composers and music. But the international award, presented jointly with the Performing Rights Society, recognizes the impact on the U.K. industry of great music men and women from overseas.

Thus the two friends of 40 years, who truly took the sound of Philadelphia around the world, joined an illustrious list of recent recipients of that award, presented last year to Lou Reed; to Holland-Dozier-Holland in 2004; and to Brian Wilson the year before. In each case, as a measure of the high regard placed on the Ivors nationally and internationally, the winners traveled to London especially for the ceremony.

Gamble & Huff, of course, already had a prodigious record as freelance writer/producers spanning some seven years by the time they formed their famous label.

Indeed, as they made their first records together in 1964, the British invasion of America may have been raging all around them, but it sat comfortably with their sensibilities.

"The British music at that time really complemented us," Gamble says. "The big groups were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, all those guys, and they were doing rhythm and blues music. The Beatles were doing 'Twist and Shout' and Chuck Berry, and the Rolling Stones were doing songs that this country was already familiar with, that mostly Afro-American rhythm and blues artists had already done."

When the duo formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971, the new label soon declared its intentions, with the help and backing of Clive Davis and CBS Records, to live up to its name.

"The marriage between Gamble and Huff, the creative force that we had, and CBS and their international distribution and marketing, it was perfect," Gamble recalls. "Clive Davis was the person who really initiated that, and we were just in the right place at the right time, and we had the right music."

Before long, the pair were in London. "We came over there first in the early '70s, and even at that time we had a real good relationship with the media, especially," Gamble recalls. "In fact me and Huff, we were shocked that they knew so much about us, from our first record."

Huff says with a laugh: "I really enjoyed myself in England. I went on the King's Road and went crazy with the clothes." Gamble agrees: "The shopping and the restaurants were fantastic, and the people."

Much later, they would discover that the music they had brought with them in that first half of the 1970s had left an indelible mark on the next generation of British music stars. None more so, nor with greater success, than Mick Hucknall and Simply Red, whose 1986 version of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me by Now" was a huge worldwide hit, topping The Billboard Hot 100.

"When I heard the Simply Red record, it knocked me out," Gamble says. "It was refreshing, and the timing was great."

At the Ivors ceremony, the collective warmth of the British songwriting fraternity toward the music of Gamble & Huff was palpable. "I really feel good about being accepted as a creative person over in England," Huff says of the new award, "and it sort of rounds out our careers, internationally. It's a wonderful thing."

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