The Sahara Club was located in the Sahara Hotel, which was on the same street as the Showboat.
The jazz spot featured local favorites, including Jimmy Heath and Bootsie Barnes. Billy Paul met Kenny Gamble while singing at the Sahara Club. Paul recalled:
I was singing in a jazz club called the Sahara. He had a record shop right round the corner and I was singing with a trio at the Sahara club on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. He came over and said, “I am starting a record company and I would like to sign you.” Low and behold I took all the material I sung every weekend and I did an album in three and a half hours — a whole album. I had this album, and I produced it — me and my wife.
And we gave him this album called “Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club” to help start the record company and that was the album that helped start it up. I was singing totally jazz then, but when I heard The Beatles and heard the gospel influence and everything I just said I can make jazz with R&B.
Gamble later wrote and produced “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which was Philadelphia International Records’ first #1 hit.
Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion on “Art in Public Space” held in the Hamilton Garden of the Kimmel Center. As I waited for the program to start, I checked out the view from the top floor. What I saw left a hole in my heart.
The hole is where Philadelphia International Records once stood.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have earned their place in history.
Sadly, the building that held the stories of the songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers is now lost to history. For the love of money, African Americans’ cultural heritage was erased from public memory.
Gamble and Huff sold the historic building to Dranoff Properties which plans to build a luxury hotel and condos for the one percent. Three years after the demolition of “309,” there’s just a hole in the ground. The reason: Dranoff Properties is waiting for a corporate welfare check to the tune of $19 million before breaking ground on the “biggest, tallest and most expensive” project the company has ever done.
In the poorest big city in the country, spending taxpayers’ money to further enrich the rich is the sound of Philadelphia.