Bayou City

The Third Time's Still Charming for CMCH's Philly Soul Tribute Show

Dr. Anne Lundy (right) rehearses the Philly Soul band at Miller Outdoor Theatre pre-show in 2022.
Dr. Anne Lundy (right) rehearses the Philly Soul band at Miller Outdoor Theatre pre-show in 2022. Photo by Maurice Roberts
In the realm of movies, the third installment in a series usually doesn’t live up to the previous entries. Think Godfather III, Superman III, and, um, Jaws 3-D. But sometimes, that third go-round can introduce something new to shake things up. Think Mr. T’s Clubber Lang in Rocky III (good!) or the fuzzy Ewoks in Return of the Jedi (definitely bad!).

For the third annual edition of their popular show celebrating the music and legacy of Philadelphia-based soul music of the ‘70s, the Community Music Center of Houston is also adding something new: A trio of songbirds.
In addition to the nearly 20 members of the orchestra, guitar/bass/piano/drums musicians, and a rotating cast of male vocalists, they’re adding a female singing combo to tackle new tunes like Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” the Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”—which gave a lot of giggling schoolboys their first naughty French lessons in the chorus’ catchy “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”

“I grew up with this music. And one of the things I loved about it was the inclusion of strings and orchestration, this lovely and lush sound. As much as I loved what was coming out of Motown and Atlantic, the [Philly sound] has something different,” says Dr. Anne Lundy, CMCH Music Director and accomplished violinist on a Zoom call. “It gave the music such class.” She will again be leading the orchestra again this year.
Dr. Jan Taylor is the recently retired Chorus Director for Prairie View A&M University. She attended the first two Philly Soul shows strictly as an audience member. But this year, finds herself onstage as one of the that new vocal trio.

“I concur with what Anne said. The music is so great with a symphonic feel on top of the funk. And I’m from that era, so it’s also about [remembering] lived experiences with that music,” she offers on the same call. “I’m ecstatic about being asked to participate in this.”

click to enlarge
Henry Mosley at pre-show rehearsal in 2022.
Photo by Maurice Roberts
Joining Dr. Taylor in the group will be Musical Director Vivian Mosley and Antonia Adams. Both are former students of Taylor’s at Prairie View, and Mosley is a longtime participant and breakout performer in CMCH’s programs (another graduate, Burniss Earl Travis II, has played bass with rapper/singer Common).

CMCH instructor and on-stage drummer for the show (and Vivian’s dad) Henry Mosley says the band’s horn section and singers are currently rehearsing, with the rhythm section about to fall in. “These are older guys who grew up with the music—so they know the songs!” he laughs. “The Spinners were literally on top of the charts when I was born!”

This year’s show will also include a tribute to Thom Bell. He is the legendary producer for the Philadelphia International label who is most responsible for writing the charts and adding that orchestration to the music mostly recorded in the city’s Sigma Sound Studios. He died last year at the age of 79.

Mosley says this section will include some of his orchestrations, with the vocals and other instruments stripped away. “I want people to hear his [genius] in the music, things you might miss while listening to the songs in your car,” he offers. “A lot of people just don’t notice what he was doing in the background. There were other arrangers recruited by [label owners] Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. But he put things like bassoons and oboes in there!”

He continues. “Most people in this show have at least a bachelor’s degree in Music, so everybody really just enjoys being able to bring this to an audience and learn that Philly International was not Motown. And songs that people keep thinking were from Motown, were from Philly.”
The 15-song set list includes some returning favorites from previous shows like “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” and “Mighty Love” (the Spinners), “Me and Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), “For the Love of Money” (the O’Jays), “Close the Door” (Teddy Pendergrass), and “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” (McFadden & Whitehead).

In addition to the girl group songs, other new additions (also slipping the setlist into the ‘80s) include Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “We Are One,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon,” and—perhaps as a nod to their inclusion in this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot—the Spinners’ “Sadie.” The show will also be livestreamed for those who can’t make it out.
The Community Music Center of Houston was founded in 1979 specifically to bring music and music education and programs to the mostly minority young people of Houston’s Third Ward. They do so through a series of group and private lessons, performances, and educational programs.

But they’ve never had a permanent home, working out of a series of temporary venues including rented facilities, churches, and community centers. The Houston Press wrote about the organization back in 2019.

That is going to change with the group’s completed purchase of a building and land at 3020 Holman in the Third Ward. The CMCH is currently in the midst of a fundraising effort to pay for the restorations and renovations needed before any doors can open.

“We wanted to own our own place to have control, and we found the building,” Liz Watkins, CMCH Board Chairperson says. She adds that it was purchased from Dr. M.D. Banfield, who ran a medical clinic there, but he still wanted the space to serve the community. She is hoping that the doors will open sometime in 2024.
click to enlarge
The future home of the Community Music Center of Houston at 3020 Holman in the Third Ward.
Photo by Elizabeth Watkins
The building’s architecture also has some historical import, as it was designed by John Chase, an early Black architect. “We’re in the planning and fundraising stage now. And we’re applying for every grant that we can!” Watkins says.

As for this year’s show, everyone involved hopes they can promote not just CMCH, but what really matters to a listener—the music.

“The Philly Sound is so layered and beautiful. What a combination of the funk and the strings. And harmonically and melodically and in songwriting. I’m just grateful that CMCH continues to do these shows,” Dr. Taylor says.

“This music is so important in the tradition of Black music.” Dr. Lundy adds. “And I can’t wait to hear ‘Lady Marmalade.’ I just love that song!”

The Philly Soul Sound Vol. 3 is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park. For information, call 832-487-7102 or visit Lawn seating is free, but free seated tickets are also available.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero