Two giants of soul enshrined with bronze plaques on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame have been awarded the music industry’s highest honor, with the announcement by the Recording Academy that Nina Simone and Thom Bell are among the 2017 Special Merit Award recipients.
Simone, known as the High Priestess of Soul, is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. Bell, a cornerstone of the Philadelphia Soul legacy in creating the Sound of Philadelphia with his “Mighty Three” partners Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff as a producer/arranger/songwriter, is receiving the Trustees Award.
The Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates performers who have made outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording, while the Trustees Award honors contributions in areas other than performance. The recipients are determined by vote of The Recording Academy’s National Board of Trustees.
“The Philadelphia Music Alliance has been honoring the city’s music legends for 30 years on our Walk of Fame,” said Alan Rubens, the PMA’s Chairman of the Board. “And to see two of our inductees recognized together with music’s highest honor on such an esteemed national stage is incredible validation to the caliber of talent which continues to emanate from the City of Brotherly Love. Congratulations to two of our city’s finest.”
Nina Simone, inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 1994, was a child prodigy whose dreams of becoming a classical musician were deferred by the color of her skin. Her fearlessness and deep commitment to the civil rights movement gave birth to such classics as “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “To Be Young, Gifted, And Black.” Her approach to music was so versatile she labeled her style black classical. From R&B and rock to jazz, gospel, blues, folk, and Broadway, Simone brought her unique style to each genre. Her interpretations of “Feeling Good” and “Sinnerman” are classics that fans around the world still enjoy. Her version of “I Loves You, Porgy” became a Top 20 single in 1959. Her rendition was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2000. She died in 2003.
Thom Bell, inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame a year earlier than Simone, partnered with Gamble & Huff to help create the quintessential Sound of Philadelphia. Gamble & Huff, also inducted into Philadelphia Walk of Fame, received the Trustees Award from the Recording Academy in 1999.
Bell was a prime architect in the development of a ’70s soul sound that moved beyond the grit of Southern soul and the effervescence of Motown by building complex and sophisticated arrangements around smooth strings, elegant horns and a driving rhythm that anticipated the rise of disco. With the Delfonics, the Stylistics, the Spinners and others, Bell established his trademark sound with sweet strings and muted brass led by the French horn. Hits such as “I’ll Be Around” and “Betcha By Golly, Wow” cemented his stature as one of the all-time great songwriter/producers. In October, with significant help from the Philadelphia Music Alliance, Bell was inducted into The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum™ in Nashville with the Sigma Sound Studio Rhythm Section and Sigma Sound founder Joe Tarsia, all of whom are on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame.