Kenneth Gamble’s childhood in Philadelphia shaped his adult life: he recorded himself on various arcade recording machines, assisted the morning show DJs on WDAS, operated a record store, and sang with The Romeos. In 1964, before there was Gamble & Huff there was “Gamble & Ross.” Gamble was discovered and managed by Jerry Ross when Gamble was only 17 years old and they collaborated for many years. Gamble teamed up with Leon Huff (keyboards) for the first time on a recording for Candy & The Kisses. Ross then signed Gamble to Columbia Records in 1963 as a solo recording artist, releasing You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It. Gamble & Ross & Huff collaborated on the hit song “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” recorded by Dee Dee Warwick and later by Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations.
In 1967 they produced their first Top 5 hit: Expressway To Your Heart by The Soul Survivors. Working for Atlantic Records, the team worked with Archie Bell & the Drells, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and The Sweet Inspirations. They also produced Mercury Records artists Jerry Butler and Dee Dee Warwick, scoring numerous hits along the way.
With a solid track record now behind them, Gamble and Huff formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971 as a rival to Berry Gordy and Motown. They originally approached Atlantic Records, which passed on the deal as being too expensive. CBS Records, headed at the time by Clive Davis, backed the venture and distributed Philadelphia International’s records. Aided and abetted by in-house arrangers Thom Bell, Bobby Martin (musician), and Norman Harris, Philadelphia International released a number of the most popular soul music hits of the 1970s, including If You Don’t Know Me by Now by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Back Stabbers and Love Train by the O’Jays, and the Grammy-winning Me and Mrs. Jones by Billy Paul. According to an interview on BBC Radio Four on 28 June 2006, Gamble and Huff were inspired to write Me and Mrs. Jones after seeing someone they knew who appeared to be involved in an affair, meeting a woman in a cafe frequented by the songwriters.
Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia soul sound evolved from the simpler arrangements of the late-1960s into a style featuring lush strings, thumping bass lines, and sliding hi-hat rhythms—elements that soon became the distinguishing characteristics of a new style of music called disco. By 1975, Philadelphia International and the Philadelphia soul genre it helped define had largely eclipsed Motown and the Motown Sound in popularity, and Gamble and Huff were the premiere producers of soul.
It should be noted that nearly all of the Philadelphia International records featured the work of the label’s in-house band of studio musicians, MFSB. MFSB cut a number of successful instrumental albums and singles written and produced by the Gamble & Huff team and arranged by Bobby Martin, including their 1974 #1 hit TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia), now best known as the theme song from the American television show Soul Train.
Through the 1970s, Gamble and Huff continued to work with some of the biggest acts in the music industry, and Gamble in particular began his continuing work to clean up the inner cities and help African-American youth. He also contributed his time and energy to the T.J. Martell Leukemia Foundation and The AMC Cancer Research Center and Hospital. His charitable works and civic efforts continue today. He has served on the board of directors for the Philadelphia Music Foundation, which honors the artists, songwriters, and producers from Philadelphia. His Universal Companies have opened a restaurant, a bookstore, a mosque, low-income housing, and a charter school. These buildings, mostly built by locally hired labor, have served as the beginnings of resurgence in the neighborhood. He also helped start the Clean Up The Ghetto project, which involved the youth of blighted communities helping with the clean-up and repair of damaged or neglected properties. P.I.R recorded a song using many of their popular artists in support of the project. Started in Philadelphia, Clean Up The Ghetto spread to Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, and similar events have been held throughout the country.
Today, Kenneth Gamble continues to write, often with Leon Huff, and Philadelphia International continues. He still lives in South Philadelphia, and remains active in his community. On September 19, 2005 Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for their outstanding achievements as producers at a ceremony held in New York City. Gamble now works as a music instructor at Raising Horizons Quest Charter School. In 2008, Gamble and Huff were the first recipients of the newly created Ahmet Ertegün Award by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.