The Jamaican authorities and those with social capital, those hegemonic power bearers in Jamaica have always amazed me. I am referring to the persons in particular empowered to select or nominate citizens and others in Jamaica and other countries for the national awards.
In my opinion, the select committee seems blinded at times as to who is truly deserving of “National Awards” – we have so many who have served Jamaica, yet I have never heard their names called for awards. One only has to look around at those who were community giants and are today bereft of national awards.
There is one more Jamaican omitted from the beneficiaries of the island’s national awards. I am referring to an internationally distinguished cultural icon — the late Thom Bell, co-creator of the Philadelphia Soul Music, composer, arranger, songwriter, singer, pianist and producer of Soul music, an important part of popular music and popular culture. Soul music would not have had an international impact on consumers of popular music if there was no Jamaican such as Bell. Bell died in the United States on December 22, 2022.
Whoever listened to the radio in the late sixties, seventies, and up to the eighties, especially RJR would have been treated either on Sunday mornings or getting ready to go to school or at night relaxing by the melodious songs of various soul singers singing songs written, arranged and composed by Jamaican-born Bell along with Gamble and Huff on the record or LP labels. Bell was (along with Gamble, Huff and Linda Creed) the co-creator of the orchestrated “Sound of Philadelphia” style of soul music. Known to mostly those deep in pop culture literature was the knowledge that Bell was not American but a native of Jamaica, a son born and bred in “Kingston town”.
Nearly all the melodious soul songs belted out that resonated with lovers and admirers of music that was romantic and soothing, that made it to the tops of the record charts had the Bell stamp and hallmark. Surely, someone in the cultural industry or in the intellectual circle must have been aware that this great creator of the Philly Sound was a son of Jamaica.
Bell’s songs were like the national anthems of soul – “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 Fall In Love. He wrote also for other famous groups — The O’jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, The Delfonics, Dusty Springfield and Jerry Butler.
Bell’s songs were what young people of the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s relished and revered. The songs he wrote, composed and arranged were worthy as collectibles and gifts to loved ones and they were pop songs you could sing or even recite to the person you desired to become your lifelong partner. While Bob Marley was busy introducing reggae to his international audience, Bell had a market of millions in all regions of the USA, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean whose love for pop music created by Black Americans motivated him to write, arrange and compose music of that covered nearly three decades.
To date, soul music including Bell’s Philly Soul Music has not waned for lack of airplay. At some time during the day soul music will be played. The genre has never left us. As the name connotes, it is the music of the soul and the soul does not die, therefore soul music will not die. Modern occasions and events will need soul music – whether weddings, office parties, relaxing moments, Sunday morning specials, or cruising in a pick-up late at night coming from the airport.
Bell’s creation and signature on Soul will be here on earth with us just like Mozart, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven, Handel or Bach music. It is time the persons in positions in this country got rid of their biases and nepotism and political preferences and select those worthy of awards. There are too many citizens who have served this country, much more than many awarded over the years with national honors who have been sidelined and ignored – Medical doctors, Missionary Pastors, Community builders and philanthropists.
Yes, Bob Marley and Millie Small may have introduced Jamaican music to the world but Bell created American music heavily consumed by Jamaicans and the world for decades. His music was a fixture on Sunday morning radio, radio evening programs and at house parties as the genre created came deep down from the soul of not only singers of African descent but also of Caucasian background.
It is urgent and important that those entrusted with the selection or awarding of National Awards begin to access information and get knowledge about the greatness of this musical genius who spread one of the most popular musical genres worldwide for almost three decades.