Thom Bell, legendary Philadelphia composer-producer, dead at 79

The music legend produced soul classics for The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners.

Thom Bell, Grammy Award-winning producer, arranger, composer, and one of the architects of Philadelphia soul music, has died. He was 79.

Bell’s death was confirmed by his lawyer, Michael Silver, in a statement provided to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Silver disclosed that Bell died in his home in Bellingham, Washington. No cause of death has been revealed.

Bell helped give the city of Philadelphia its musical identity. His sophisticated string arrangements fused with emotional soul music helped define the sound of Philadelphia (TSOP). Bell partnered with fellow songwriting and producer legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to form The Mighty Three. Although he only seldomly wrote with Gamble and Huff, the three ran a publishing company together.

Both Gamble and Huff released individual statements in response to the death of their longtime friend and collaborator.

“Tommy and I have been best friends for over 60 years. When we first met, we decided to start writing songs together and form a singing duo ‘Kenny and Tommy’ and then our band ‘The Romeos’,” said Gamble. “Leon Huff and I were proud to have him as part of our Mighty Three music writing team, which helped create our signature brand of TSOP. He was a great talent and my dear friend. The name of Gamble Huff and Bell will last forever. Rest in peace buddy!”

Huff said, “Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter and music producer of all time. It was my esteem honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.” 

Bell, born in Jamaica in 1943, had nine siblings and grew up in West Philadelphia. His parents were both musicians and he learned to play drums and classical piano as a child.

Dating to the 1960s, Bell co-penned and/or produced numerous R&B and pop hits, making local Philadelphia acts turn into superstars. Along with songwriting partner Linda Creed, he wrote several hits for The Stylistics, including “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” “People Make the World Go Around,” “You Are Everything” and “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart).”

Bell produced classics for The Delfonics, often writing with lead singer William Hart. Their collaboration resulted in soul classics like “La La (Means I Love You),” “Ready or Not Here I Come (You Can’t Hide Love)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” Bell also helped catapult The Spinners into stardom, producing songs like “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “Then Came You” and “The Rubberband Man.”

Other notable hits Bell either wrote or produced include Deniece Williams’ “Silly” and James Ingram’s “I Don’t Have The Heart.”

In 1975, Bell won the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year. In 2006, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and his children, Royal, Troy, Tia, Mark, Cybell and Christopher.

TheGrio music writer Matthew Allen contributed to this article.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!