When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum announced that it was devoting February — Black History Month — to the Philadelphia International Label and its lush soul sound that dominated the ’70s, there was a glaring omission in its jam-packed programming schedule: Where were Northeast Ohio’s O’Jays, who scored huge hits with masterpieces of Philly soul like “Back Stabbers,” “Love Train,” “Usta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money”?
They’re on the schedule now. Founding members Walter Williams and Eddie Levert will sit down for an interview at the Rock Hall’s 4th-floor Foster Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 10. (It’s a free event; make a reservation by calling 216.515.8426 or e-mailing edu@rockhallorg.)
Founded in 1958 in Canton, the group put out their first single in 1961 and had some regional hits in the ’60s. But their career blew up in 1972 with their first Philly International release “Back Stabbers.” Between 1972 and 1978, the vocal trio had seven Billboard Top 20 pop hits, all on Philadelphia International, and all produced and mostly written by Philly International’s founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
The O’Jays had a gruff, aggressive vocal sound that gave a piquant punch to Gamble and Huff’s smooth signature sound. The group still performs regularly with third member Eric Grant. They were inducted into the rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Go to rockhall.org for a full schedule of Black History Month activities honoring the Philadelphia International sound. —Anastasia Pantsios