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August 20, 2023

Bobby Eli, Philly soul music pioneer with a star-studded resumé, dies at 77

The guitar player, songwriter and producer helped craft the famous "sound of Philadelphia" and appeared on hundreds of songs

Music Obituaries
Philadelphia International Records COURTESY/INTERNET ARCHIVE

Bobby Eli, a member of the Philadelphia International Records house band and longtime songwriter and producer, died on August 17 at the age of 77.

Bobby Eli, a celebrated guitar player, songwriter and veteran of Philadelphia's venerable 1970s soul, disco and R&B scenes, died earlier this week at 77 years old.

As a musician, Eli was perhaps best known as a pioneer of the so-called Sound of Philadelphia – a subgenre of soul music made famous in Philly in the late 1960s and early 1970s – as well as a founding member of the Philadelphia International Records house band MSFB, which recorded the theme song for the TV show Soul Train. 

Eli also contributed to a number of chart-topping hits and collaborated with many well-known artists over the years.As an integral player in the Philly soul scene of the 60s and 70s, Eli played on hundreds of songs. The Philadelphia-born musician appeared on tracks from the likes of Hall and Oates, Elton John, The Temptations, Patti Labelle, Teddy Pendergrass, The Jacksons and Jay-Z, according to the artist's Wikipedia entry.

Even those who may not not recognize Eli's name have likely heard his guitar playing. Hit songs he appeared on include McFadden & Whitehead and "I'll Be Around" by The O'Jays.

Eli's Philadelphia roots ran deep. Before he helped forge the sound of Philly soul, Eli grew up in Southwest and North Philly and briefly went to Temple University. In 2006, he opened a recording studio in Upper Darby called the Grooveyard. Eli never strayed far from the Philadelphia area over the course of his life. He passed away on August 17 at his home in Havertown.

A public memorial is being planned for Eli sometime in October, according to the Inquirer.