One of Us: Kenny Gamble

Before the songwriting legend and his Sound of Philadelphia partner, Leon Huff, are honored at the Parkway concert on July 4th, Gamble talks Jay Z, Glenn Miller, and how Donald Trump helped make him richer.

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Kenny Gamble, although sometimes people call me Mr. Huff.

I was born … at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1943, and grew up in an apartment in South Philadelphia at 15th and Christian. First floor rear. We had a big dog named Curly.

I met Leon Huff … at the Schubert Building in 1963. We were working on separate floors for different production companies and met in the elevator. We got together at his house and wrote six songs in one day.

I drive a … 10-year-old Lexus. You know why I keep it? The car has a tape deck, so I can play all my old cassettes. These new cars have CDs and satellite and all that stuff, but what I really need is a cassette player.

I bought my first property … in 1977. The old house we had an apartment in. I looked at it as a neighborhood improvement project. We had a song called “Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto,” and so that’s what I’ve tried to do: improve the neighborhoods that African-American people live in.

One thing I miss about “old” Philadelphia … is the unity. When we grew up in South Philly, we were all like brothers; we knew one another, we knew each other’s parents. It was like a little village.

The first concert I ever went to … was probably Sam Cooke at the Nixon Theatre on 52nd. That was really something to witness.

I met Donald Trump … at a fund-raiser. I was on the elevator. I told him, “You used my music on your TV show” — “For the Love of Money” is the Apprentice theme song. He asked me, “Are you making any money with it?” I said, “Yeah, a little bit, but we could make a lot more if you keep it.” He said, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Then he walked away.

My favorite Philadelphian of all time … would have to be Leon Sullivan and Sam Evans, and of course Cecil Moore. They fought for justice for African-American people.

When Teddy Pendergrass got into that car crash on Lincoln Drive in 1982 … Huff and I were actually in Jamaica, writing songs for him. He was one of the most promising singers ever. He could have been the black Elvis.

I never ran for political office because … I’m a songwriter, not a politician.

The best song that ever sampled from us was … “What More Can I Say?,” by Jay Z. He sampled one of our songs, “Something for Nothing.” Biggie Smalls sampled that one, too.

Don’t tell my doctor, but I love to eat … ice cream. But really, I have a pretty good diet.

The furthest I have been from Philadelphia … is South Africa in 1991, with the cast of the South African musical Sarafina. I saw the show on Locust Street, and they told me that our music had been an inspiration to all in South Africa and invited us. We went to Nelson Mandela’s house. It was right after he got out of prison.

Prince was … very smart. Not many people own a color.

One band people would be surprised I like … is the Glenn Miller Band. That’s the start of me wanting to do this. I used to tell my mother, I am going to have a band like that. They used to laugh at me.

Published as “One of Us” in the July issue of Philadelphia magazine.