Remembering Thom Bell

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to learn of the passing of 2006 inductee Thom Bell.

Thom Bell was best known for his success with the Philadelphia sound in the 1970s, particularly with the Delfonics, Stylistics and Spinners. With the "Mighty Three" partners, 1995 SHOF inductees Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Bell helped to create the Sound of Philadelphia, one of the most important and dominant sounds of the early and mid-70s, and the heir to the Motown sound of the 60s. And as a songwriter, musician, producer, and arranger, Bell established himself as one of the most important R&B/Soul music figures of that era.

Born in 1943 in Jamaica, Bell studied classical music as a child. As a teen, he met up with and joined Gamble in The Romeos. He learned to play multiple instruments and planned to become a classical conductor, but at age 22 he became a staff writer and touring conductor for The Twist singer Chubby Checker. He then earned his first production gig for a local group called the Delfonics in 1968. The combination yielded two big hits in 1969, La La Means I Love You and Didn't I Blow Your Mind.

Bell's early work set the stage for his style of production and arrangements. He created unique arrangements using seemingly odd instruments, such as sitars and bassoons, to create first-of-a-kind Soul sounds that others would try to emulate for years afterward. His productions tended to be lush and orchestral (influenced by his classical background), but with hot, pulsating beats and excellent vocal arrangements. While his work may have owed a debt to the Motown sound of the 60s, he clearly took Soul music to a new and different level, and his work became the template for dozens of acts throughout the 70s.

In 1972 he produced the debut album by the Stylistics and with his songwriting partner, lyricist and1992 SHOF inductee Linda Creed, contributed such classics as Betcha By Golly Wow and You Are Everything to that seminal album. He also provided production and arrangement work on the O'Jays' Backstabbers album and completed one of his greatest works, the Spinners' self-titled Atlantic Records debut (which included I'll Be Around, Could It Be I'm Falling In Love and Ghetto Child, among others). Bell won a Grammy award in 1975 in the category of Best Producer of the Year.

Bell became one of R&B music's most prolific hitmakers, working with numerous acts including Dionne Warwick, Teddy Pendergrass, New York City, Ronnie Dyson, Lou Rawls, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Dusty Springfield and Johnny Mathis. He collaborated with 1992 SHOF inductee Elton John, whose EP, The Thom Bell Sessions, featured back-up by the Spinners and produced the Top 10 hit Mama Can't Buy You Love. Other artists Bell produced included The Temptations, Phyllis Hyman, Dee Dee Bridgwater, and he even re-united briefly with the Stylistics in 1981 on Philadelphia International's subsidiary, TSOP on their Closer Than Close album. Bell had success with Deniece Williams, including her R&B #1 and Top 10 re-make of The Royalettes' It's Gonna Take a Miracle in 1982; James Ingram with I Don't Have the Heart in 1990 (Bell's second #1 pop hit). Perhaps his best work of the decade was on Hyman's Living All Alone album (he co-wrote and produced the chilling ballad, Old Friend).

In the 90s and beyond, Bell worked with artists as diverse as James Ingram (I Don't Have the Heart), Angela Winbush, David Byrne and Joss Stone, while continuing to see his hit songs sampled and covered by countless artists.

Bell received the Grammy Trustees Award in 2016.