THE SOUL OF PHILADELPHIA is an ambitious feature documentary, targeted for theatrical release, which explores and identifies the organic connection between the city of Philadelphia, PA and the soul music evolution between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Combining broadcast and personal archival footage of landmarks and performances, coupled with historical and anecdotal accounts from the artists and individuals involved, we will paint a portrait of a city as important to the music as the artist. Told through the eyes and memory of a recording engineer that worked and established relationships with almost all of the Philadelphia artists featured, and some that visited to capture the sound, The Soul of Philadelphia is an opportunity for viewers to experience an inside look at a unique period in music history.
The city of Philadelphia has a rich and storied musical history, and was the source of an overwhelming abundance of popular soul music from Philadelphia International Records in the 1970s. For over a decade, the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff dominated the airwaves with their style of soul music that included expansive orchestration and soulful vocals.
As time progressed the musical landscape changed, evolving to include a more popular approach and eventually birthing a signature hip-hop sound. During the mid-90’s it emerged from a sub-genre, to something that overtook the radio-waves just as soul had done 30 years before. In the latter part of the decade, a fusion of classic soul and hip-hop was born and it began in Philadelphia.
THE SOUL OF PHILADELPHIA explores the resurgence of soul music and the city’s position as its home base throughout the early 21st century. During this period many artists found their voice in something that was reminiscent of the original sound of Philadelphia, but forging its own identity.
It took little time before the music created its own culture with the premier institution being the famed Black Lily, while other showcases appeared where artists performed spoken word, original compositions or covered soul standards. The entire experience and its growth in and outside of Philadelphia was organic. The community of musicians and producers grew in numbers and in strength, solidifying themselves as a musical family, not unlike that of Motown from decades before.
While the family grew they were heavily inspired by the musical history of the city; these artists were recording in the same rooms at Sigma Sound where Philadelphia legends like Teddy Pendergrass and the O’Jays spent countless hours shedding sweat and creating timeless records. The Studio, owned by Larry Gold a former cellist with Gamble & Huff’s MFSB orchestra, soon became their studio of choice while drawing on the energy and mentorship he was able to provide. The Five Spot became the testing and proving ground where they would showcase new music and keep loose for upcoming performances; lounges like Loie and Fluid were the place where they relaxed, being close to the same people that supported them.
As the decade drew to a close, soul began to lose its grasp on popular culture and some of these artists experienced success in other disciplines. The Roots were recruited as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and later The Tonight Show, while Jill Scott became a published author and highly sought-after actress. Other artists retained and expanded their fan-base, continuing to release new music, some through independent channels.
This project will follow these artists from the beginning of the modern soul era through present day. By showcasing conversational interviews and referencing archival footage sourced from subjects and archival services, the viewer will be able to re-live the feeling that was so prevalent in the city during the selected time period.
It has been almost eight years since soul was pushed from the radio-waves for a different sound and the open mics were packed nightly throughout the city. The Studio and Sigma Sound were sold, the Five Spot was lost in a violent fire, and many of the artists have moved to locations closer to their new endeavors.