Philly’s Got Soul: Our City’s R&B Scene Over the Years

Featured Image of Jill Scott by Sandra Alphonse via Flickr

The term R&B, rhythm and blues, was first used by music journalist Jerry Wexler in 1947, shortly after the blues genre began to take hold. Philadelphia began to play a crucial role in propagating the genre in the 60’s with the emergence of Philly Soul music, which largely boasted smooth, melodic instrumentals to support and enhance the more emphasized vocals.

Philadelphia boasted its own record companies to create its signature sounds, the most noteworthy being Philadelphia International Records, which is responsible for producing hits from The Jackson 5 and Philly’s own Teddy Pendergrass. The label was founded in 1971 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, both of whom are immortalized on Broad Street’s Music Walk of Fame plaque as well as inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Beyond Pendergrass, many other big players in the R&B scene hailed from Philadelphia, including the Stylistics.

Grammy winner Billy Paul still performs today. “Me and Mrs. Jones” spent sixteen weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 and peaked at #1.

MFSB, a group consisting of over thirty members, gave a nod to their hometown with “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” which also reached #1 on Billboard and became certified gold.

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes received renewed recognition with John Legend (while not from the city a University of Pennsylvania alumnus) and The Roots‘ cover of “Wake Up Everybody.”

More impressive than the genre’s success was its capability to remain in the spotlight over time. Philly Soul outlived the 70’s and progressed into the next decade with Patti LaBelle. Her 1983 track “Lady Marmalade” was rejuvenated in 2001 by powerhouses Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Mýa, and Lil’ Kim for the musical romance Moulin Rouge!.

Hall & Oates formed nearly alongside the Soul genre and have persisted into the present day, still performing their groovy hits such as “I’ll Be Around.” They have modernized their image recently by collaborating with celebrated artists Cee-Lo Green, K.T. Tunstall, and Darius Rucker among others.

Despite its historic roots, R&B maintains its stronghold in Philadelphia. Radio stations such as WDAS and Power 99 keep the sound, old and new, alive. Center City’s recording center Milkboy the Studio has produced contemporary R&B staples, including Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and Usher’s Raymond v. Raymond.

Below, are just a few of Phily’s contemporary R&B artists…

Jill Scott

Boyz II Men

TLC (Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a Philly native)

John Legend

Philadelphia embraced R&B by creating its own genre, Philly Soul, which weaved its way into modern pop culture as well as anchored Philadelphia’s role in the R&B scene for the succeeding four decades and beyond.

Who is your favorite Philly R&B artist? Tell us in the comments below!

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