The recipients of the annual Marian Anderson Award have been announced — and, this year, three winners will be honored: Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Patti LaBelle.
All are associated with the legendary Philadelphia International Records: Gamble and Huff as songwriters and producers, LaBelle, of course, as a singer. Together, they a represent all sides of the microphone.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of Philadelphia International Records, the home of the band MFSB and the famous sound of Philadelphia. Its original studio on Broad Street was damaged by a fire in 2010, then razed last year to make way for the construction of a 47-story hotel.
For 18 years, the Marian Anderson Award has been given to people representing both artistic excellence and positive social impact, including Maya Angelou, Richard Gere, and the onetime rival to Philadelphia International Records, Berry Gordy of Motown Records.
This years’ recipients, in their own ways, have launched or contributed to charities and social programs. Gamble, in particular, is heavily involved in low-income, publicly funded real estate developments in South Philadelphia.
Executive director Pat Moran said the award — named for the Philadelphia contralto who was a civil rights pioneer — has had Gamble, Huff, and LaBelle on its mind for a long time.
“Arguably, Gamble and Huff have had the greatest impact on American music, in and out of the city,” said Moran. “We had these giants in our city we wanted to honor. It’s the 45th anniversary of their label, also.”
The awards ceremony is scheduled for November in the Kimmel Center. The entertainment lineup is not yet determined, and it’s not known if LaBelle will perform. However, Mayor Jim Kenney noted that a taste of old-school Philly soul will be delivered on the Fourth of July, when the Welcome America free concert on the Parkway will feature label mates The O’Jays and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.
“Bring back some of those old groups that — if you are old enough — we all danced to in the ’70s,” Kenney told a small crowd at the award announcement, at the Sofitel hotel in Center City. “Not only did we dance, we listened to what they had to say. We woke up to what was going on. If you don’t know me by now, you’ll never know me.”