The Musical Influence of Thom Bell


Roy Black highlights the legacy of the outstanding Jamaican–born songwriter, producer, conductor and arranger, Thom Bell, stressing that he had a “far-reaching musical influence.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] One prime example of this [Jamaica’s rich musical heritage] is the outstanding songwriter, music producer, arranger, and conductor – Thom Bell. He has the distinction of being one of the creators of the Philadelphia style of soul music during the late 1960s and 1970s, sometimes referred to as ‘Philly Soul’, and which, arguably, could only be challenged by ‘The Motown’ sound of that era. His songwriting, producing, arranging, and conducting skills were largely responsible for the success story surrounding groups like The Delfonics, The Stylistics, The Spinners, and New York City. Bell also worked with Dionne Warwick, Jerry Butler, Billy Paul, James Ingram, Lou Rawles, Ronnie Dyson, Elton John, The O’Jays, and Johnny Mathis, for whom he wrote the classic Life is A Song Worth Singing in 1973.

Thomas Randolph Bell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1943 and shares the birthdate of January 26 with legendary Studio 1 owner Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd. He migrated with his parents and siblings to Philadelphia Pennsylvania, United States, at about age five. According to Colby Graham, author of the Vintage Boss magazine and a man who has done extensive research on Bell, “Both his mom and dad were musicians, but they worked in different departments at the University of Pennsylvania. It was mandatory in the Bell family that all had to do some form of music. Thom started on drums then switched to piano before age 10 and soon became a classical piano player. Kenny Gamble and one of Thom’s sister were friends, so she introduced Thom to Kenny,” Graham told me in a radio interview.

These preliminaries set the stage for the musical drama that was to follow. As it turned out, Bell became part of a singing group, The Cameos, which Gamble had, and did some recordings with them in the doo-wop style towards the end of the 1950s.

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