The 3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia

3tenors_soul.jpgTitle: The 3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia
Artists: Russell Thompkins, Jr., William Hart, Ted Mills
Label: Shanachie
Catalog No.: 5768
Date: 2007


Whether back in the days of bell bottoms, penny candy (that actually cost a penny), red light and quarter parties, and afro picks with fist; or the present day of ‘70s parties and steppers sets…if you were asked to compile a playlist of music, you knew it was not complete until you added some selections from such legendary groups as the Delfonics, the Stylistics, and Blue Magic.

Growing up during the early ‘80s on Chicago’s Southside, I can remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the sounds of the vacuum roaring and the radio blaring as my mother cleaned the house. After running to the kitchen to get a bowl of my favorite cereal, I would rush to the area of the house that my mom was in to watch as she put on a show. As she cleaned, she would sing along with the radio as if she were in grand concert. “Ready or not, here I come you can’t hide…, God bless you, you make me feel brand new…, Let the sideshow begin, hurry, hurry, step right on in…” These early morning experiences would serve as my introduction to the lush Philly sound. I would received further submersion within the Philadelphia sound by listening on Sunday afternoons to Chicago radio deejay Herb Kent “The Cool Gent” as he played “dusty records” which often featured the Delfonics, the Stylistics, and Blue Magic.

Recognized as one of the foremost groups of that distinctive “Philadelphia sound,” the Delfonics were formed in 1965. Comprised of brothers William “Poogie” and Wilbert Hart, and friend Randy Cain, the Delfonics have graced us with classics such as “Hey Love” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” featuring William as the lead. In 1968, the union of lead singer Russell Thompkins, Jr. (previously a member of the Monarchs) with the members of the Percussions gave rise to the Stylistics. This group was responsible for hits such as “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and, one of my personal favorites, “Betcha By Golly Wow.” Blue Magic was formed in 1972 when Ted Mills (originally brought on as a songwriter) was paired with a group of guys from a North Philly neighborhood. Blue Magic is noted for songs such as “Sideshow” and “Three Ring Circus.”

The 3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia brings together three of the best known lead tenors of the Philly sound. Thompkins, Hart and Mills offer the Soul enthusiast ten audibly pleasing tracks. Throughout each of the tracks, the 3 Tenors of Soul masterfully and artistically use their golden tenor falsettos to weave images of days gone by. In addition, the 3 Tenors have included collaborations on three of the songs: All The Way From Philadelphia (with Hall & Oates), A Love Of Your Own (with The Average White Band), and Where Are All My Friends (with Bilal). As a side note, Bilal is also from the North Philly neck of the woods, as well as a member of the neo-soul tradition.

While all ten tracks are great, I found the following to be the most audibly stimulating: Grateful (track 3), featuring Ted Mills on lead vocal; A Love of Your Own (track 5), featuring Russell Thompkins, Jr. (with The Average White Band); and Where Are All My Friends (track 9) with lead vocals by Ted Mills with Bilal.

Though the accompanying liner notes provide a brief glimpse into the history of each group, they do not provide the consumer with the facts or characteristics of what exactly constitutes that distinctive Philadelphia sound. Nor do the notes provide an explanation for why William Hart is not featured as a lead vocalist save for when all three tenors are featured. Nevertheless, if you are new to the Philadelphia sound and would like to understand the concept behind the music, I would suggest you do a little research. Check out John A. Jackson’s book A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul in particular. Additionally, all of the research materials Jackson used in compiling his award-winning book have been deposited at the Archives of African American Music and Culture, as described in the Winter 2007 issue of Liner Notes.

Overall, The 3 Tenors of Soul: All the Way From Philadelphia is a good buy for the lovers of the falsetto register. And for those who find it annoying, just remember these words from the liner notes: “it’s a Philly thing!”

Posted by Terence La Nier II