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Gladys Knight Tag

Soul Serenade - McFadden & WhiteheadI try to keep my personal politics out of this column, but after a somewhat … unusual … convention in Cleveland, the circus has moved on to Philadelphia this week. It’s one of my favorite cities, and I don’t need any inspiration to write about Philadelphia music. But since the eyes of the world are focused on Philly this week I thought I’d add my gaze as well.

I’m in the middle of reading a fine book called A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul by John A. Jackson. According to Mr. Jackson, disco was invented in the City of Brotherly Love, specifically when session drummer Earl Young combined a thumping, four-on-the-floor bass drum rhythm with stick work on an open high-hat cymbal. When called upon by producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in 1973 to play on the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes session for “The Love I Lost” (a song that was originally intended to be a ballad), Young invented the disco beat right there on the spot. The resulting single featured Teddy Pendergrass singing lead, and it was Pendergrass who called the record “perhaps the first disco hit.”

It’s that time of year again. Beginning on Friday, some of the world’s greatest musicians will descend on Newport for two of the longest running and most prestigious festivals in the world. This weekend the Newport Folk Festival is in town, and next weekend is the 60th (!) annual Newport Jazz Festival. I’ll be covering both for Popdose, so be on the lookout for those stories.

There are several artists playing the Folk Festival this year who I am excited about seeing. Chief among those is Mavis Staples. I’ve seen Mavis many times, including several appearances at the Folk Festival, but this year she will be closing out the festival on Sunday night. It is an honored spot, one that was often given to giants like the late Pete Seeger or Levon Helm in the past. I can think of no one more deserving than Mavis of a place on that stage at that time on Sunday.

Berry Gordy, Jr. served in Korea, returned to Detroit, got a job at Ford, and started writing songs for his friend Jackie Wilson. Gordy figured out two things. First, there was money in publishing. Second, a lot of the kids who came up singing in