Luqman Abdul-Haqq aka Kenny Gamble, Giving Back To His Community
There Is A Message In The Music
Kenny Gamble is part of the production team of Gamble & Huff, who founded Philadelphia International Records in the early 1970s. Most of us are familiar with the artists and the string of hits this label has produced through out that decade and was a big influence on Disco. Gamble always stood out to me because of the liner notes he’d leave on the album jackets and he came up with the concept of “message is in the music” which originally the title of an O’Jays album and later became the company slogan (it was later put on all album covers). His vision as chief architect of using his artists was not only to entertain and romance, but also to enlighten a Pop audience who only saw music as a way to escape personal and world problems. His approach was to do something about it, whether it was thru worship, protest or voting.
“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead (it was ghostwritten by Dr. York) was seen as somewhat of an anthem by those politically and socially active in the Black community, which fell in line with Gamble’s vision of Black unity. Sometimes he let tunnel vision rule his better judgement and almost derailed Billy Paul’s career by choosing “Am I Black Enough For You” as his next single after the chart topping “Me & Mrs. Jones”.
In 1977, he got most of the Philadelphia International Artists to take part in a beautification project, by recording a song to finance the whole thing. He called it “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” by The Philadelphia International All-Stars and it failed miserably. The project was figured out to take 5 years to complete, which would have included hiring young people to help clean-up their neighborhoods and wear t-shirts with that slogan as well as cleaning goods. He got endorsements from all over the country from Black Mayors, but in Philly it was stopped cold. Philly’s Mayor was back then a White bigot by the name of Frank Rizzo. It also didn’t help any that album sales were dismal (never made Billboard Top 200), even though it got airplay and reached #5 on the R&B charts.
In December, 1979, Black Enterprise magazine called Philadelphia International one of the 10 largest Black-owned companies in America, with sales in excess of $30 million annually. However as the decade closed with a decline in Disco, the label began to suffer and Gamble went off into other ventures. In 1980, he went thru a divorce (he got remarried) and afterwards got more involved in Black causes he felt would improve his community. Bobby Eli (founding member of MFSB) said of him “actually he could have been like another Malcolm X. He was always a good orator, a very, very good speaker.”
In 1990, he left the comfort of his suburban home and move back to his South Philly neighborhood to help socially and financially do all he can to make it a better place to live. He told a reporter in 2003, that “There has to be some kind of commitment from people in the community. It can’t be your goal just to leave.” In one area, he rehabbed 100 row houses and a Masjid in a neighborhood that was infested with crack. He has been accused of racism, because he would only sell his properties to low-income Blacks. He admitted that integration was never his goal, but to give back to the community (Black) he came from.
In recent years, Gamble & Huff have had to pay up due royalties to sum of their artists. Billy Paul was awarded $500,000 for “Me & Mrs. Jones” in 2002. The label still exists today, but small-time and local, with the duo still in charge. The duo was inducted into the National Songwriters Hall Of Fame and a musical revue in that gave props to PPIR’s legacy, titled “Me and Mrs. Jones” played in Philly in 2001.
The drive behind Gamble from the earliest days was his faith (he was raised a Jehovah’s Witness). He flirted with the teachings of the Nation of Islam and the Ansaarullah Community, but never made a formal commitment until 1975. His conversion was under the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed (Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s 7th son, who was Minister of Philly’s Temple for a while). He came as the Imam was moving the N.O.I. toward Sunni Islam, but was still very Pro-Black. Gamble’s Muslim name is Luqman Abdul-Haqq, but he still uses his “government name” when dealing with the public. His faith however takes a universal approach toward spirituality, as he still owns a ring he had especially made that has a cross superimposed over a six-point star.