Hidden from small

The “Philadelphia Sound” and the “Sound of Philadelphia” Honored on Walk of Fame

September 26, 2019

On October 22 The Philadelphia Orchestra will be honored with a plaque on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame. Sponsored by the Philadelphia Music Alliance and located on the South Broad Street Avenue of the Arts, the Walk of Fame features 147 sidewalk plaques that honor the legacy of the city’s greatest musical artists, ensembles, songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, and music-industry figures. Three of the Orchestra’s music directors—Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, and Riccardo Muti—currently have plaques on the Walk of Fame; this year the Orchestra receives one as an ensemble.

Joining the Orchestra as 2019 Walk of Fame honorees are the vocal group the O’Jays, rock group the Hooters, singer Evelyn “Champagne” King, disc jockey Pierre Robert, music-industry executive Jody Gerson, and the late philanthropist Dorrance “Dodo” Hamilton. There is actually a link between the Orchestra and the O’Jays. Formed in 1958 in Ohio, the O’Jays achieved their greatest success in the 1970s with Philadelphia International Records, the local record company owned and operated by the producer/songwriter team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (both of whom are Walk of Fame honorees). With a long string of hits, including “Love Train,” “Back Stabbers,” “I Love Music,” and “For the Love of Money,” the O’Jays were enormously popular and helped to propel Philadelphia International Records to worldwide acclaim. They were one of key groups that shaped the “Sound of Philadelphia,” the city’s unique soul and rhythm & blues sound of the 1970s.

The 2019 inductees at the award announcement. 

Long before there was the “Sound of Philadelphia,” there was the “Philadelphia Sound.” While the former was a soul sound that reached its pinnacle in the 1970s under Gamble, Huff, and their songwriting/producing colleague Thom Bell (also a Walk of Fame honoree), the latter was the renowned symphonic sound of The Philadelphia Orchestra, honed by maestros Stokowski, Ormandy, and their successors. Stokowski was the original architect of the “Philadelphia Sound.” During his 29-year tenure with the Orchestra (1912–41) he introduced such innovative aural approaches as “free bowing,” in which string players bowed freely and individually rather than in unison, and physical rearrangements of the Orchestra, in which various sections were positioned differently on stage than the traditional spatial arrangement we know today. Although he did not continue these unusual approaches, Ormandy refined and further developed the “Philadelphia Sound” and during his 44-year tenure (1936–80) the Orchestra was among the world’s most recorded and admired musical ensembles.

The Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Jessica Griffin

Both the “Philadelphia Sound” and the “Sound of Philadelphia” enjoyed international popularity, and both were often described in similar ways, with writers extolling their rich sonic textures and in particular their lush, silken string sounds. Appropriately, these two sonic worlds once intersected, as Philadelphia Orchestra players often served as studio musicians on Philadelphia International recordings. Thus, the “Philadelphia Sound” helped to shape the “Sound of Philadelphia,” and when you hear the lush, sophisticated orchestrations of O’Jays hits, you are hearing a bit of The Philadelphia Orchestra.