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Berklee College of Music Make Gamble and Huff Doctors of Music

05/12/2010
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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter-producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were presented honorary doctor of music degrees their first together in a distinguished partnership that is nearing its 50th anniversary on Saturday at Berklee College of Music's 2010 Commencement, capping a weekend celebration here at the Agganis Arena.

The architects of the world-renowned "Sound of Philadelphia" were recognized for their vast achievements and influence in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture. They received their degrees with more than 850 graduates from 54 different countries, in a ceremony whose Philadelphia flavor was undeniable.

Mr. Gamble also delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and more than 4,000 guests including Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, seated together in the front row to watch Brolin's daughter, Molly, graduate; and Joan Pendergrass, widow of the late Philadelphia International Records soul crooner Teddy Pendergrass. Mr. Gamble encouraged the class to be more than songwriters, guitar players, or business people, but also ambassadors of love through their music. Their message songs of peace, love, empowerment, social conscience and turmoil sold millions of records, as they fashioned the sweet, sexy, stirring, socially conscious Philly Sound at Philadelphia International Records (PIR).

Mr. Gamble quoted "Love Train," one of 40 No. 1 hits he wrote with Mr. Huff: "People all over the world/Join hands/Start a love train/Don't miss it/'Cause if you miss it/I'll feel sorry For You," and led a brief a capella sing along of the universally familiar chorus.

"It's wonderful to be young and gifted," said Mr. Gamble from the podium. "The future is like a piece of clay. You have the ability to mold it and shape it any way you want. It's right in the palm of your hands. But you have to be committed, you have to be persistent and you have to persevere through all of the setbacks to make your dreams come true. Learn from yesterday, live today at it's maximum, and do great planning for tomorrow."

Accepting his honorary doctorate alongside Mr. Gamble later in the ceremony, Mr. Huff thanked God for meeting his songwriting partner, and told the audience how much he has enjoyed their enduring relationship.

Jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader Kenny Barron, another Philadelphian, took the stage on graduation eve (May 7) at the annual Commencement Concert in the Agannis Arena to perform his composition "Phantoms," joined by his granddaughter and graduating class member Nikara Warren on vibes. Barron, who launched his career under the tutelage of previous Berklee honoree Dizzy Gillespie, also from Philadelphia, confessed during Commencement to being blown away by the talent in the previous night's concert, and said that receiving his award on the day that his granddaughter was graduating was a double honor for him.

The Commencement Concert featured some of the college's most accomplished students presenting a tribute to Gamble & Huff, Barron, de Lucia and Kidjo with performances of music associated with their careers. Concert highlights included a medley of O'Jays songs, including the Gamble & Huff classics "Backstabbers" and "For the Love of Money," as well as an a capella mix of Philadelphia International Records hits like "TSOP (the Soul Train theme), "Love Train" and "Me & Mrs. Jones" by the Berklee vocal group, Pitch Slap.


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