Legendary Philadelphia International Records co-founders and R&B pioneers Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff released the following joint statement today as they mourned the passing of Robert “Big Sonny” Edwards, original member of The Intruders, the first group to have national hit songs under the direction of Gamble & Huff with the smash hit “Cowboys to Girls”:
“We are very saddened to learn of the death of our good friend, ‘Big Sonny.’ The Intruders, featuring Big Sonny and the rest of the original members, were near and dear to our hearts, and helped start our musical career as a team. Not only was the group one of the first artists we wrote for and produced, but they also were our close friends. Big Sonny and the group were great artists who we have been honored to work with from the very beginning. We will truly miss Big Sonny. We send our sincere condolences to his family.”
Surviving original member Phil Terry also lamented that Robert “Big Sonny” Edwards “was not only my longtime friend for over 59 years, he was like a brother to me. And we, too, were honored to work with the Gamble & Huff producing team and help launch the Legendary Sound of Philadelphia as one of its first artists. Big Sonny was clearly the heartbeat of the group and had a positive impact on all of us. I will greatly miss Big Sonny, my dear brother.”
The Intruders played a major role in the rise of the Sound of Philadelphia. Their 1968 hit, “Cowboys to Girls,” topped the R&B charts, was a Top 10 pop hit, and became the template for what would become the Philly Sound. “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” released in 1973, has been commonly played on Mother’s Day by radio stations around the world for over 40 years.
The Intruders received a bronze plaque along the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 1996. In 2010, Edwards and Phil Terry, the surviving original members of the group at the time, were honored by Philadelphia International Records with the annual Phillies Gamble & Huff Community Partnership Award here at Citizens Bank Park.
Originally a doo-wop group, “Big Sonny” Edwards, Terry, lead singer Sam “Little Sonny” Brown and Eugene “Bird” Daughtry signed with Gamble & Huff’s fledgling Gamble Records in 1966, and scored a Top 20 R&B hit that year with “(We’ll Be) United.” They followed a year later with “Together.”
The Intruders’ major breakthrough came in 1968, when “Cowboys to Girls,” topped the R&B charts and climbed to No. 6 six on the pop charts, not only giving the group its biggest hit, but forging a template for what would become Philly soul’s trademark sound. Gamble & Huff’s success with the Intruders played a significant role in helping to launch Philadelphia International Records, which became the most successful soul label of the early ’70s. Other subsequent Intruders hits on Philadelphia International included “(Love Is Like a) Baseball Game,” “(Win Place or Show) She’s A Winner,” and “I Wanna Know Your Name.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.