The Philly Sound is going to the movies.
The Sound of Philadelphia, a new documentary film, will tell the story of songwriters and producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, architects of the Philly soul sound that was a dominant musical and cultural force in the 1970s. The film is now in production with a team that includes Oscar- and Emmy-winning documentarian Alex Gibney.
Gamble, Huff, and Bell — collectively known as “The Mighty Three” — have a shared catalog of over 3,500 songs, whose innumerable hits include The O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers,” Billy Paul’s “Me & Mrs. Jones,” The Delfonics’ “La-La (Means I Love You),” and The Stylistics’ “You Are Everything,” among others.
The heavy hitting team behind the Sound of Philadelphia film includes executive producer Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Men in the Room and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and director Sam Pollard, whose credits include recent docs Mr. Soul! and Sammy Davis: I Gotta Be Me. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are also executive producers.
The news comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary celebration in 2021 of Philadelphia International Records, the label founded by Gamble and Huff. Their artist roster included Paul, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Patti LaBelle, McFadden & Whitehead, The Three Degrees, and others.
Gamble, Huff, and Bell have a publishing partnership, but Bell, known for his work with the Spinners and Elton John, as well as the Stylistics and Delfonics, worked independently and was not a PIR owner.
In a joint statement, Gamble and Huff said: “After six decades, we are incredibly proud to finally share our life stories with the world and showcase all the hard work that has gone into creating this great music. We are even more excited to be working with the incredible teams at Imagine and Warner Music, as well as Alex Gibney and Sam Pollard.
“Our longtime fans and new fans will get a unique look into the creation of the Sound of Philadelphia with the themes of empowerment and love, to ‘people all over the world’ as we’ve always had a ‘Message in our Music!!!’”
The film has only recently started production and there is no word yet on a timetable or destination for its release, a spokesperson said.
The Sound of Philadelphia is not to be confused with Wake Up Everybody, the documentary directed by Bill Nicoletti that has been years in the making.
It will also tell the story of the Philly sound, with a wider focus centered on Sigma Sound Studios, the Center City recording facility founded by engineer Joe Tarsia that was a home base for PIR and also used by artists like Todd Rundgren and David Bowie. Nicoletti previously directed the documentary, Once in a Hundred Years: The Life & Legacy of Marian Anderson.
Wake Up Everybody, which counts University of Pennsylvania grad John Legend and NBC weatherman Al Roker among its executive producers, will premiere on Comcast’s Peacock streaming service this summer, Nicoletti said, and shown at select in-theater screenings and film festivals.