Gala night at Kimmel for R&B standouts

Old-school R&B will have its day in Philadelphia on Sept. 9, when the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Awards 20th anniversary gala is held at the Kimmel Center.

This year's honorees, announced yesterday at the Loews Hotel, include singers Chaka Khan, Teena Marie and Bill Withers, dance-pop band Kool & the Gang, vocal group the Whispers, Motown musicians the Funk Brothers, 1950s and '60s R&B star Sugar Pie DeSanto, Stax records executive Al Bell, and the late soul man Donny Hathaway.

The foundation, which moved to Philadelphia from New York in 2005 at the behest of Philadelphia International Records founder (and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee) Kenny Gamble, has raised more than $3 million to help meet the needs of aging R&B stars whose financial compensation by the music industry has not matched their musical contribution to popular culture, according to chairman Kendall Minter.

The awards were last held in 2006 at the Bellevue, when they were hosted by Patti LaBelle and Smokey Robinson, and honored Motown founder Berry Gordy. This year's hosts have not yet been announced.

The foundation would like to make the gala an annual event, executive director Patricia Wilson Aden said at yesterday's news conference, which was attended by Kool & the Gang, singer Teddy Pendergrass, vocal duo Kindred the Family Soul, and 2006 honoree Chubby Checker, who at one point picked up neo-soul singer Vivian Green for a photo-op.

"But it's really difficult for a nonprofit to put together this level of event every year," said Aden, who added that the awards show is seeking a television deal. "It's more important that we make it a significant event on a regular basis. We want to make the Pioneer Awards Philadelphia's signature event."

The Pioneer Awards also serve as a focal point for Gamble's goal to bring a national rhythm-and-blues museum, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to Philadelphia.

"Jazz, rock-and-roll, hip-hop: All the current styles in pop music come from rhythm-and-blues," Gamble said in an interview. He is on the foundation's board of directors along with Bonnie Raitt, John Oates and Pendergrass.

"And in Philadelphia, you can go all the way back to Bandstand, which was the MTV of its time. Philadelphia deserves to have its musical heritage honored," Gamble said.

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-865-5628 or Read his blog, "In the Mix," at