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Thom Bell

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Thom Bell
Birth nameThomas Randolph Bell
Born(1943-01-26)January 26, 1943
Kingston, Colony of Jamaica
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedDecember 22, 2022(2022-12-22) (aged 79)
Bellingham, Washington, U.S.
  • Record producer
  • arranger
  • songwriter
  • composer
  • pianist
  • singer
Years active1959–2022
Formerly of

Thomas Randolph Bell[1] (January 26, 1943 – December 22, 2022) was an American record producer, arranger, and songwriter known as one of the creators of Philadelphia soul in the 1970s.[2] Hailed as one of the most prolific R&B songwriters and producers ever, Bell found success crafting songs for Delfonics, Stylistics, and Spinners. In June 2006, Bell was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, Bell was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.


Thom Bell with his parents and an older brother in 1950 US census

Bell was born on January 26, 1943, in Kingston, Jamaica,[3] to Anna and Leroy Bell, and brought to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the age of four by his parents, according to an interview Bell gave to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.[4][5][6] Both of Bell's parents were native Jamaicans.[7][8] Thomas Bedward Burke, Bell's maternal grandfather, was born in Kingston, Jamaica.[9][10]

Known as Thom, Bell was one of ten brothers and sisters. His mother, Anna, worked as a stenographer and was a pianist. Leroy, his father, owned a fish market and restaurant, was also musical, playing the accordion and Hawaiian guitar.[11]


Bell classically trained as a musician and sang as a teenager with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates fame). Bell's first big break in soul music came with Cameo Records in Philadelphia where he worked as a session player and arranger.[2]

In 1967, he was introduced to a local group called the Delfonics, and produced two early singles for them on the Moon Shot and Cameo labels.[2] Bell brought a mellifluous, hypnotic style to soul music, and soon this production aesthetic yielded several big hits for the group on the Philly Groove label, run by their manager Stan Watson.[2] These releases included "La-La (Means I Love You)" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time),"[12] the latter of which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970.

Bell joined the fast-growing record production company operated by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in Philadelphia, working as an arranger for acts such as Jerry Butler, Archie Bell & the Drells, Jerry Bell, the O'Jays, and Dusty Springfield.[2] He arranged some big hits, including the O'Jays' popular "Back Stabbers," on Gamble and Huff's own record label, Philadelphia International Records, which the two launched in 1971.[2] Bell then joined Gamble and Huff in setting up a publishing company for their songs, Mighty Three Music.[13]

By 1971, Bell had moved on to produce another local group, the Stylistics, this time on Avco Records.[2] He had at this point begun working with the Philadelphia-born songwriter Linda Creed; their partnership became one of the era's dominant soul songwriting teams, writing Stylistics hits including "Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart)", "You Are Everything", "Betcha by Golly, Wow", "Break Up to Make Up", "You Make Me Feel Brand New", and "I'm Stone in Love with You" (the last co-written with Bell's brother Tony).[2]

In 1972, Bell agreed to produce the Spinners for Atlantic Records.[2] The group had left their longtime label, Motown, following years of only occasional success there; Bell made them a hit recording act, producing five gold albums and top-ten singles including "I'll Be Around", "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love", "Games People Play", and "The Rubberband Man".[14] In 1974, he was awarded a Grammy for Best Producer of the Year.[15]

In 1975, Bell produced an album for Dionne Warwick called Track of the Cat; this followed "Then Came You," her collaboration with Bell and the Spinners from the previous year, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number two on the R&B chart. Bell also worked in the mid-to-late '70s with acts including Johnny Mathis (two albums),[2] Billy Paul, Ronnie Dyson, Little Anthony & the Imperials, and New York City.

Bell subsequently had success with Deniece Williams, including her R&B number-one and top-ten remake of the Royalettes' "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" in 1982;[16][17] Elton John, whose EP The Thom Bell Sessions featured backing vocals by the Spinners and produced the top-ten hit "Mama Can't Buy You Love" in 1979; and James Ingram, whose "I Don't Have the Heart" became Bell's second number-one pop hit, in 1990. Other artists Bell produced in the 1980s included the Temptations, Phyllis Hyman, and Dee Dee Bridgewater; he also re-united briefly with the Stylistics in 1981 on Philadelphia International's subsidiary, TSOP.

Warner Chappell Music acquired Mighty Three Music in 1990.[18]

A December 2008 interview with Bell featured on the Philly Soul box set, Love Train, stated he would soon compose a piece for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Past Orchestra members played in MFSB, the house band who played on many Bell productions.

Bell was known for being a perfectionist in his writing and very budget-conscious, demanding that session musicians play his compositions as they were written and not improvise.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Bell married Sylvia Bell in 1965 but they later divorced in 1984. He married Vanessa Joanne Wittrock in Seattle on December 29, 1985.[4][6] He had six children.[4][20]

On December 22, 2022, at the age of 79, Bell died at his home in Bellingham, Washington, after what was described as a "lengthy illness."[21][22]

Producing and songwriting[edit]


  1. ^ "BMI | Repertoire Search". Archive.today. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 117. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ "Thom Bell Biography, Songs, & Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved June 4, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Friskics-Warren, Bill (December 24, 2022). "Thom Bell, a Force Behind the Philadelphia Soul Sound, Dies at 79". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  5. ^ "1950 Census of Population and Housing [database on-line], Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Enumeration District: 51-2484, Page: 19A, Line: 15, household of L. Randolph Bell". Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. April 1, 1950. Retrieved December 24, 2022 – via Ancestry.com.
  6. ^ a b "Washington, U.S., Marriage Records, 1854-2013 for Thomas Randolph Bell". Olympia, Washington: Washington State Archives. 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2022 – via Ancestry.com.
  7. ^ "World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line], Leroy Bell". St. Louis, Missouri: National Archives. 2011. Retrieved December 24, 2022 – via Ancestry.com.
  8. ^ "Anna Burke-Bell-Payne-Williams (obituary)". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. February 14, 2020. p. A6. Retrieved December 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. She is survived by her eldest son, Thom Bell, and only daughter, Barbara Bell; she had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
  9. ^ His father was a botanist, and his mother a secretary.
  10. ^ "Anna Burke-Bell-Payne-Williams (obituary)". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. February 14, 2020. p. A6. Retrieved December 24, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. She is survived by her eldest son, Thom Bell, and only daughter, Barbara Bell; she had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
  11. ^ Williams, Richard (December 29, 2022). "Thom Bell, Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved February 28, 2023.
  12. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 117. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  13. ^ Gamble-Huff website recognizing 50th-year anniversary of Mighty Three Music
  14. ^ John A. Jackson (2004). A House On Fire: The Rise And Fall Of Philadelphia Soul. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-534880-4. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  15. ^ 1974 Grammy Awards
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 625.
  17. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  18. ^ SHIVER, JUBE (July 28, 1990). "L.A. Company Buys Catalogue of Black Music: [Home Edition]". Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif., United States. p. 2. ISSN 0458-3035. ProQuest 281123647. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  19. ^ "Philadelphia producer. Thom Bell, - Praise, Comments, Music, Social Topics". YouTube.
  20. ^ "Thom Bell: Philadelphia soul pioneer dies at 79". BBC News. December 23, 2022. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  21. ^ "Thom Bell, an architect of 1970s Philadelphia soul, dies". www.cbsnews.com. December 23, 2022. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
  22. ^ "Iconic Philadelphia Soul pioneer Thom Bell dies at 79". Soultracks. December 22, 2022. Retrieved December 22, 2022.

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