There’s a simple reason the songwriting/producing team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had so many powerful and effective songs advocating social change: They talked about current events every day.
“We’d just sit down every day and just talk and laugh,” Kenny Gamble said. “And something might come up where we’re looking at the news (and one of us would say), ‘The world is so crazy, they need a love train.’ Then we’d say, ‘Uh oh! We got one!’ So then we’d go to the piano and stomp it out.”
Gamble and Huff spoke about the rich history of their partnership during a gathering at Warner Music Nashville on Thursday (May 5) in Nashville, where the duo will be honored Friday as part of the National Museum of African American Music’s My Music Matters Week celebration. The two will be feted at a banquet on Friday along with gospel singer Pastor Shirley Caesar and TV One/Radio One’s Chairwoman Cathy Hughes and President/CEO Alfred Liggins III.
Concert events with Floetry, the Isley Brothers and Beyonce coincide with the celebration, the latter of whom Gamble cited as a voice to listen to when it comes to modern artists taking on social or political issues.
“I think you have to feel it,” Gamble said. “I think Beyonce is making a little noise right now with her music. Her new video for ‘Lemonade,’ she’s talking about women’s issues and things like that. A lot of times you can use music as a platform.”
“We talked about everything, basically — current events, world events, human issues,” Huff said. “We sort of patterned it after Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. We sort of fit in that mode. They need to do more of it. I don’t hear a lot, not like we was doing. Like Gamble said, you’ve got to feel it.”
“You do what you feel,” Gamble said.
The architects of Philadelphia soul as the songwriting and production partners at Philadelphia International Records, Gamble and Huff are responsible for more than 800 mostly R&B cuts and their music is played every 13.5 minutes somewhere in the world. Songs like Billy Paul‘s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “For the Love of Money” and “Love Train” by the O’Jays, and “If You Don’t Me By Now” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes took simple stories about social or personal drama and showed through their popularity and universality how similar we all are regardless of race or social station.
The two then proved their own point when they acknowledged they’re looking for country music partners to record cover versions of their best songs for an album they’re dreaming up while in Nashville.
“We’re talking about it, about working with some of the country artists down here,” Gamble said. “I’d like to hear Willie Nelson sing ‘Me and Mrs. Jones.’ I think it’d be a smash.”