LaBelle, Gamble, Huff pay tribute to Philly music great 'Bunny' Sigler, dead at 76

Walter "Bunny" Sigler during an introduction at the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame induction along the 200 block of South Broad St. in 2013.

Walter “Bunny” Sigler, 76, who worked with nearly all of Philadelphia’s great rhythm and blues acts, and helped Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff create the “Sound of Philadelphia,” died Friday at home of a heart attack.

Mr. Sigler was working until the end and in August released a new single, “Angel Eyes,” from an upcoming album, Young at Heart.

Mr. Sigler’s longtime attorney and friend Lloyd Remick said, “We were the closest of close for 40 years. We spoke every day. Yesterday we spoke three or four times, and we were on a conference call about a new jazz album due in January.”

Remick said that Mr. Sigler had recorded eight unreleased songs for the album.

“Bunny was an amazing musician,” Remick said, “but an even better person. In 40 years I never heard him curse.”

Mr. Sigler worked with Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, the Spinners, and countless others, and his music was sampled by Jay Z, Nelly, and Outkast. “He wrote, produced, recorded, and sang,” said Remick, “and he wrote gospel, Christmas music, R&B, and funk. He was a musical genius.”

Mr. Sigler was nominated for a Grammy Award for his vocal work on Uri Caine’s jazz reworking of Verdi’s Othello.

Remick said Mr. Sigler had been ill for the last 10 months and suffered from diabetes.

Mr. Sigler was born in Philadelphia on March 27, 1941. His birthdate gave him his famous moniker; he was called Bunny because he was born two days before Easter. He started singing at a young age at Sunday school. “I wouldn’t say it was very funky, just straight,” Mr. Sigler wrote on his website.

The funk came later, when he started singing at his mother’s church, Emmanuel Baptist. “Now THAT was funky,” Mr. Sigler wrote. “I really dug the way people got down in church.”

In 1967, he released “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Feels So Good” on Cameo Records. The single eventually reached  No. 12 on the R&B Billboard charts. When Cameo-Parkway folded, he started hanging around what was then called Gamble Huff Productions. He was a regular presence, “singing, strumming guitar and practicing his newly acquired martial arts skills with wall punches and kicks,” his website reads. “The latter proved unsettling to visiting clients.” To stop the impromptu martial arts, Gamble suggested Mr. Sigler start writing songs.

“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and brother in music,”  LaBelle said in a statement. “Bunny spent his life using his talents to bring love and joy to others and for that we are all grateful! He will truly be missed, but his legacy lives on!”

In separate statements, Gamble and Huff also paid tribute to Mr. Sigler.

“I am truly and deeply saddened by the passing of my very dear friend Walter ‘Bunny’ Sigler,” Gamble said. “He was one of the most talented, creative, and great songwriters and music producers I have worked with. He contributed so many great songs to our [Philadelphia International Records] artist roster from the beginning. Bunny also was a great singer, and performed superbly on many of our hit songs as a background vocalist. More importantly, he was like family to us. And he was the best!”

“Bunny was one of my favorite producers and writers,” Huff said. “I was honored early on to introduce Bunny to the Philadelphia music community, and to producer and songwriter legends John Madara and Dave White. I was privileged to write and produce his first and biggest hit, ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’ I truly loved Bunny Sigler and will truly miss him.”

Mr. Sigler last tweeted on Sept. 25, a tribute to his wife, Martha. He is also survived by a daughter, Eva, and a son, Jabare.

After learning of the death, WDAS began playing Sigler songs from throughout his long career.

For more of Sigler’s music: