SOURCE: Rhythm & Blues Foundation

April 12, 2006 12:46 ET

Rhythm & Blues Foundation Announces Details for the 14th Annual R&B Foundation Pioneer Awards

Ceremony Set for June 29, 2006 at the Park Hyatt Bellevue in the R&B Capital, Philadelphia, PA

Honorees Include Chubby Checker, Bettye Lavette, Barbara Mason and Producer Thom Bell; Delfonics Set for Group Award; Berry Gordy Slated as Lifetime Achievement Honoree; Legacy Tribute Honors the Late Otis Redding; Patti Labelle and Smokey Robinson Join Forces as Masters of Ceremonies

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- April 12, 2006 --After a three year hiatus, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation returns with the Fourteenth Annual Pioneer Awards set for June 29, 2006 at the Park Hyatt Bellevue in Philadelphia, PA, it was announced by Kayte Connelly, executive director for the Foundation. This Pioneer Awards will be the inaugural event for the Foundation from their new home in Philadelphia, PA, the city considered to be the "home of Rhythm & Blues." This new direction for the highly respected and much loved music event also honors several musical artists who got their start in Philly and are credited with creating what has become known as the Philadelphia soul sound.

Connelly also revealed the list of the R&B Pioneer Honorees for 2006 including: Chubby Checker, Bettye LaVette and Barbara Mason. Producer Thom Bell and the Delfonics round out the group of honorees. The Legacy Tribute Award will go to Otis Redding while Berry Gordy will accept the R&B Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

2006 Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award Recipients:

Chubby Checker, who is best known for promoting the 60s dance craze "The Twist," is Philadelphia born and raised. Born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941, Chubby won an audition with the local Cameo-Parkway label, who signed the fledgling singer in 1959. At the suggestion of Dick Clark's wife, the youth was re-christened Chubby Checker, the name a sly reference to Fats Domino. In 1960, he recorded "The Twist," a cover of a 1958 Hank Ballard & the Midnighters B-side; Checker's rendition de-emphasized the original's overtly sexual overtones, focusing instead on the song's happy-go-lucky charms. The single rocketed to number one during the autumn of 1960, remaining on the charts for four months; some time after it dropped off, it slowly returned to prominence, and in late 1961 it hit number one again; the only record ever to enjoy two stays at the top more than a year apart. After "The Twist" first made Checker a superstar, he returned to the top in 1961 with "Do the Pony"; that same year, he also reached the Top Ten with "Let's Twist Again," which assured the dance's passage from novelty to institution.

In addition to 1961's "The Fly," Checker's other Top Ten hits included three 1962 smashes: "Slow Twistin'," "Limbo Rock," and "Popeye the Hitchhiker." In total, Checker notched 32 chart hits before the bubble burst in 1966. In 1988, Checker returned to the Top 40 for the first time in a quarter century when he appeared on the Fat Boys' rap rendition of "The Twist," and he continued touring regularly throughout the decade to follow.

Bettye LaVette has been called one of the most soulful singers alive. At 16, she cut her first record, "My Man -- He's A Lovin' Man," which was only out for a short time before Atlantic Records in New York bought the rights and released it on their label where it became a big soul hit. After one more Atlantic release, 1963's "You'll Never Change," LaVette moved back to her original label, Lupine, for her third record. She then recorded the long-unreleased "One Thin Dime" for Scepter before resurfacing on Calla with the 1965 lost classic "Let Me Down Easy," which was destined to become her signature song.

LaVette returned to Atlantic, signing to their Atco division for 1972's Neil Young's cover "Heart of Gold." An LP, "Child of the 70s," was also recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios, but Atco opted against its release after the failure of the single "Your Turn to Cry." After joining the touring company of the Broadway musical "Bubbling Brown Sugar," LaVette briefly signed to West End for a disco effort, 1978's "Doin' the Best I Can"; she did not record again until 1982, landing at Motown and rechristening herself "Bettye."

"I've Got My Own Hell To Raise," Bettye's latest CD, is a song of collection by women writers. According to the New York Times, "Her voice holds traces of smoke and leather, broken glass and tempered steel; in songs about love and betrayal, she rasps and moans, begs and claws, slashes and snarls, with exquisite timing and freshly remembered pain. Ms. LaVette has made an album of harrowing beauty."

Barbara Mason came from Philadelphia with a giant hit in 1965 that outsold some of the records made by the Beatles at the height of their popularity. Her self-penned "Yes, I'm Ready" topped the pop charts at number five and hit the R&B charts at number two. Called "a fetching soul-pop confection that spotlighted her high, girlish vocals," this song was one of the first examples of the sweet, lush sound that came to be called Philly soul. Mason followed her initial success with the pop Top 40 in 1965 with "Sad, Sad Girl."

In the early and mid-'70s, Mason toughened her persona considerably, singing about sexual love and infidelity with a frankness that was uncommon for a female soul singer in songs like "Bed and Board," "From His Woman to You," and "Shackin' Up." Sweet soul continued to be her groove, and she continued to write some of her material. But the production, as it was throughout soul in the '70s, was more funk-oriented, and at times Mason would interrupt her singing to deliver some straight-talkin' raps about romance. Curtis Mayfield produced her on a cover of Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love," which restored her to the pop Top 40 and R&B Top Ten in 1973. The song that Mason wrote and recorded as a teenager, "Yes, I'm Ready," has been played on the radio more than three million times.

PRODUCER:

Thom Bell was among the principal architects of the lush and seductive Philly soul sound, one of the most popular and influential musical developments of the 1970s. Bell worked in tandem with the visionary production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Born in Philadelphia in 1941, Bell joined Gamble's harmony group the Romeos in 1959, and by the age of 19 was working as a conductor and arranger for hometown hero Chubby Checker. Bell moved on and signed on as a session pianist with Cameo Records, where he first worked with the local soul group the Delfonics. When their manager Stan Watson formed the Philly Groove label in 1968, Bell came aboard as a producer, helming Delfonics classics like 1968's "La La Means I Love You" and 1970's "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time."

Bell's work with the Delfonics became immediately recognizable for its shimmering beauty and exquisite sweetness, and when he reunited with Gamble and new partner Leon Huff at their newly formed Philadelphia International Records, the classic Philly Soul sound quickly began to take shape. Over the course of seminal releases like Jerry Butler's 1969 smash "Only the Strong Survive," Billy Paul's 1972 smash "Me and Mrs. Jones," and the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes classic "If You Don't Know Me by Now," the Gamble-Huff production aesthetic -- an intoxicating combination of sweeping strings, smoky horns, and insistent rhythms -- emerged as the definitive soul sound of the early '70s, its success due in large part to Bell's impeccable arrangements. The team arguably reached their pinnacle working with the O'Jays, scoring a series of classic hits like "Back Stabbers," "Love Train," and "For the Love of Money" and drafting the blueprint for the rise of disco during the latter half of the decade.

GROUPS

The Delfonics were one of the first groups to sing in the sleek, soulful style that became popularized as the "Philadelphia sound." A vocal trio made up of brothers William and Wilbert Hart and high school friend Randy Cain, the Delfonics roots go back to doo wop singing at school dances in the early '60s. They were well-known in the Philly area for their supple, airtight harmonies talent that brought them to the attention of record producers, eventually landing them a contract with Cameo-Parkway. While their early records brought them little if any notice, it did bring them to the attention of producer/arranger Thom Bell who signed the band to his soon-to-be influential soul label Philly Groove. Right from the start this was a perfect match as the band released the classic "La La Means I Love You" in 1968, a song that began a string of hits lasting into the mid-'70s.

The hits slowed for the Delfonics in the mid-'70s, and in 1971 Randy Cain quit the band and was replaced by Major Harris. A few more minor hits followed but Harris left the band for a solo career in 1975, effectively finishing the Delfonics. In the late '90s, the group played a significant musical role in Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown. Tarantino, a borderline obsessive fan of '70s pop culture, used "La La Means I Love You," and their best single, "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," as a way of underscoring the relationship between actors Pam Grier and Robert Forster. In the film, Forster's character is so struck by the music (and Grier), he goes out and buys the Delfonics Greatest Hits cassette the following day.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT HONOREE

The founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy did what many people of his time believed could never be done: he brought Black music into millions of White Americans' homes, helping both Black artists and their culture gain acceptance, and opening the door for a multitude of successful Black record executives and producers. The songs that were written, produced, and released from "Hitsville USA" comprise some of the most enduring, sophisticated and popular music of our time. Influential artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson were all discovered and their talents fostered by Berry Gordy. Motown groups like the Four Tops, the Supremes and the Temptations are regarded as some of the best vocal groups ever to record. Even now, years after Gordy sold the company, the reputation of excellence he forged at Motown continues to stay with the famous label.

Setting up a publishing company, Gordy met a young singer named William "Smokey" Robinson, who fronted a group called the Miracles. Gordy became their manager and together they co-wrote the hit "Got a Job." In 1960, "Money (That's What I Want)," the first song wholly conceived and produced at Hitsville a house purchased by Gordy at 2648 West Grand, became a hit. Not long afterwards, the Miracles hit with "Way Over There" and "Shop Around," Motown and Berry Gordy were national.

With the success of the Miracles, endless numbers of young, talented artists from the area began to show up at Hitsville. Soon Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder were all recording for Tamla and its parent label Motown. The label's new motto was "the sound of young America," and writers like Holland/Dozier/Holland, Harvey Fuqua and Norman Whitfield churned out million-seller after million-seller for the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Temptations.

Looking back, Gordy did the impossible, taking an $800 loan from his family, he turned Motown into the most successful Black-owned label in history. In the process, Gordy also brought the world countless memorable songs not only through his vision for spotting talent in others, but also his own talent as a songwriter and producer.

LEGACY TRIBUTE

Otis Redding, one of the most influential soul singers of the 1960s, exemplified the power of Southern "deep soul" with his hoarse, gritty vocals, brassy arrangements, and an emotional way. His death at the age of 26 was tragic not just because he seemed on the verge of breaking through to a wide pop audience. He did just that with his posthumous number one single, "[Sittin' On] The Dock of the Bay." This classic song also demonstrated, that Redding was at a point of artistic breakthrough in terms of the expression and sophistication of his songwriting and singing.

Although Redding at his peak was viewed as a consummate, versatile showman, he began his recording career in the early '60s as a Little Richard-styled shouter. In 1962 he took advantage of an opportunity to record the ballad "These Arms of Mine." When it became an R&B hit, Redding's solo career was truly on its way, though the hits didn't really start to fly until 1965 and 1966, when "Mr. Pitiful," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "I Can't Turn You Loose," a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," and "Respect" were all big sellers.

Redding wrote much of his own material, sometimes with the assistance of Booker T. & the MG's guitarist Steve Cropper. Yet at the time, Redding's success was primarily confined to the soul market; his singles charted only mildly on the pop listings. He was nonetheless tremendously respected by many white groups, particularly the Rolling Stones, who covered Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Pain in My Heart."

Redding died in a plane crash in Wisconsin on December 10, 1967, in an accident that also took the lives of four members from his backup band, the Bar-Kays. A few other singles became posthumous hits, and a good amount of other unreleased material was issued in the wake of his death.

General Admission tickets are available by contacting: Djohnson@rhythmblues.org or by calling 215-568-1080.

The official airline for the 2006 R&B Foundation Pioneer Awards is Southwest Airlines (www.southwest.com).

Contact Information

  • For event information, contact:
    R&B Foundation
    215-568-1080

    For press queries, contact:
    Lindajo Loftus
    310/455-9181