Philadelphia (or ‘Philly’) soul is a subgenre of soul music which most people, including Tunde Folawiyo, are likely to have heard of. Although bands such as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes played an important role in the development of this style, it was the producers who worked with these musicians that created many of its most notable characteristics; for instance, Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were responsible for introducing the use of instrumental textures which would eventually come to define Philly soul.
Other distinguishing traits of this style included rich, complex orchestral arrangements, which featured sweeping string and high-pitched brass passages. The addition of classical instruments to the soul rhythms typical of this era gave Philly soul a unique, smooth sound which set it apart from other subgenres. The musicians who favoured this style were amongst the first to successfully fuse traditional pop vocals, jazz melodies and R&B rhythms together, and it was this fusion which would eventually inspire other musicians to create the genre known as Disco during the seventies.
The above-mentioned band, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, was possibly the most successful Philly soul group. They first formed during the mid-fifties, and were initially a quintet, but it was Melvin who composed the songs and choreography, and arranged the music. However, by the time the band began to receive acclaim, Melvin had relinquished most of these duties.
Despite the somewhat lukewarm reception they received from the public during their first few years as a group, they continued to perform to audiences across the US. Their tour with the Cadillacs in the late sixties led to them meeting Teddy Pendergrass, a young drummer who, it would later transpire, was an incredibly talented vocalist.
He was quickly hired by Melvin as the lead singer of the Blue Notes; his booming baritone voice helped to bring their songs to life. With his singing ability and the expressive orchestral melodies provided by their producer, Gamble & Huff, they began to enjoy the recognition they had always dreamed of. Several of their songs, including ‘The Love I Lost’ and ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, became international hits; these are tracks which Tunde Folawiyo, and most other soul music fans, will still be familiar with today. The band toured up until the late nineties, only stopping when their leader, Melvin, passed away from a stroke in 1997.