The Jamaican authorities and those with social capital, those who wield hegemonic power in Jamaica, have always astounded me. I’m referring to the individuals who have the authority to select or nominate citizens and others in Jamaica and other countries for national awards.
The select committee, in my opinion, appears to be blinded at times as to who truly deserves “National Awards” – we have so many who have served Jamaica, but I have never heard their names called for awards. Look around at those who were once community titans but are now devoid of national recognition.
One more Jamaican has been left out of the list of recipients of the island’s national honors. I’m referring to the late Thom Bell, co-creator of Philadelphia Soul Music, composer, arranger, songwriter, singer, pianist, and producer of Soul music, which is an important part of popular music and popular culture. Without Jamaicans like Bell, soul music would not have had an international impact on popular music consumers. Bell died on December 22, 2022, in the United States.
Anyone who listened to the radio in the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, particularly RJR, would have been treated to the melodious songs of various soul singers singing songs written, arranged, and composed by Jamaican-born Bell, Gamble, and Huff on the record or LP labels on Sunday mornings, getting ready for school, or at night relaxing. Bell co-created the orchestrated “Sound of Philadelphia” style of soul music with Gamble, Huff, and Linda Creed. The fact that Bell was not an American but a native of Jamaica, a son born and bred in “Kingston town,” was mostly known to those immersed in pop culture literature.
Almost all of the melodious soul songs belted out that resonated with lovers and admirers of romantic and soothing music and reached the top of the record charts bore the Bell stamp and hallmark. Someone in the cultural or intellectual circles must have known that this great creator of the Philly Sound was a son of Jamaica.
“La -La” (means I Love You) by the Delfonics in 1968; “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind, This Time” by the Delfonics in 1970; All-time pop favorite “Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart,” by the Stylistics in 1971; Betcha By Golly Wow by the Stylistics; Couldn’t Be I Am Falling In Love by the Stylistics. He also wrote songs for The O’jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, The Delfonics, Dusty Springfield, and Jerry Butler, among others.
Bell’s songs were loved and admired by young people in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. His songs were collectibles and gifts to loved ones, and they were pop songs you could sing or even recite to the person you wanted to be your lifelong partner. While Bob Marley was busy introducing reggae to his international audience, Bell had a market of millions in the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean, and his love for pop music created by Black Americans inspired him to write, arrange, and compose music that spanned nearly three decades.
To this day, the popularity of soul music, including Bell’s Philly Soul Music, has not waned due to a lack of airplay. Soul music will be played at some point during the day. The genre has never gone away. As the name implies, it is soul music, and because the soul does not die, soul music will not die. Modern occasions and events will require soul music, whether they are weddings, office parties, relaxing moments, Sunday morning specials, or cruising in a late-night airport pick-up.
Bell’s creation and signature on Soul will live on with us in the same way that Mozart, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven, Handel, or Bach music did. It is past time for those in positions of power in this country to put aside their biases, nepotism, and political preferences and select those deserving of recognition. There are far too many citizens who have served this country – medical doctors, missionary pastors, community builders, and philanthropists – who have been sidelined and ignored over the years.
Yes, Bob Marley and Millie Small introduced Jamaican music to the world, but Bell created American music that Jamaicans and the rest of the world listened to for decades. His music was a staple on Sunday morning radio, radio evening programs, and house parties, as the genre he created came from the souls of singers of both African and Caucasian descent.
It is urgent and critical that those charged with the selection or awarding of National Awards begin to gather information and gain knowledge about the greatness of this musical genius who has spread one of the most popular musical genres around the world for nearly three decades.