Celebrated and respected producer and songwriter Thom Bell has passed away at the age of 79. The prolific artist–who also served as an accomplished arranger–was one of the original pioneers of the influential Philly Soul subgenre.
Thomas worked with countless legends and acclaimed artists, including The Delfonics, The Spinners, and The O’Jays. He wrote and arranged all-time favorite singles like “I’ll Be Around” and “Betcha By Golly Wow” by The Stylistics, “Backstabber” by the O’Jays, and produced “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” by Elton John.
Bell won a Grammy for Producer of the Year in 1975. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.
Thom Bell, was classically trained as a musician, and was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to Philadelphia as a child, and as a teenager sang with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Daryl Hall–the latter of whom went on to a legendary career with Hall & Oates. Bell’s first big break in soul music came with Cameo Records in Philadelphia where he worked as a session player and arranger.
Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis mourned Bell’s death on Instagram, writing, “We use adjectives every day to describe people like ‘great,’ ‘legend,’ ‘icon,’ ‘superstar,’ and ‘genius.’ Thom Bell was all of those combined x 10. Thom Bell not only wrote amongst the biggest smash hits (of cultural importance!) of the last 50 years but he would also be every songwriters favourite songwriter. @nilerodgers and @eltonjohn are tagged because they know! We will never know his kind again. The word for #thombell is ‘special!’ There are 100 songs by him that I can’t live without! Today I will play them all and give thanks. For a lifetime I’m grateful.”
In a 2021 interview with Consequence, Bell reflected on his style, saying, “When I write, I make sure that my introductions grab you from the first note. I write to grab you; to give you my true feelings. I don’t want to tell you a love story and only tell you part of a love story. I want to give a complete story. That’s how can always tell one of my arrangements.”