Ruby Gamble, 96, mother of musician Kenneth Gamble

Ruby Gamble
Ruby Gamble
Posted: March 16, 2012

Who was that sweet lady passing out the Watchtower at 30th Street Station?

And who would dare not take a copy from so earnest and charming a devotee of the faith?

It was a devotion to the Jehovah's Witnesses that on many days led Ruby Gamble to hike from Stenton Avenue to City Hall with other witnesses, buttonholing passers-by and delivering their message of hope.

Then she'd track down possible converts at the train station and other venues that might offer up interested people - or at least the curious.

Ruby Gamble, 96, a daughter of the Deep South who came to Philadelphia in 1937 to find work and retired in 1977 as a laboratory technician for the city Department of Health, died March 10 at her home in Mount Airy.

Ruby was the inspiration behind the success of her famous son, Kenneth Gamble, who with Leon A. Huff created the iconic "Philadelphia sound" of soul music.

In fact, Ruby was said to have been the inspiration for the Intruders' hit song "I'll Always Love My Mama."

"Our mother was extremely special," Kenny Gamble said. "She was the kindest person in our lives. More importantly, she was the inspiration for everything I have done in life, including creating the wonderful music that others have enjoyed around the world.

"As the matriarch of the family, she was a spiritual person who devoted her life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Her kindness and peacefulness will never be forgotten."

That "wonderful music" put Philadelphia on the soul-singing map. The partnership of Gamble and Huff generated hit songs that they wrote and performed themselves or produced through their Philadelphia International Records, working with many of the top vocal stars of the era. They are credited with producing more than 3,000 songs since the late '60s.

The Intruders were among the first of the many singing groups produced by the label.

Ruby watched as her talented son, while still a teenager, recorded himself on arcade recording machines, then went to work with DJs at WDAS-FM (105.3), ran a record store, and sang with the Romeos.

His songwriting and producing career caught fire when he met Huff, a keyboard player, and they almost single-handedly made Philadelphia an international center of soul music.

Ruby was born in Ozark, Ala., where she got her early education and graduated from high school in 1932. After her sisters moved to Philadelphia, Ruby made the move herself. She worked as a domestic for a time, then in a factory operating a power machine, and finally landed the job with the city Health Department.

"It was a job she was very proud of," her family said.

After she became involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses, Ruby's devotion was rewarded when she was made a fulltime minister - known as a pioneer - in 1984.

She threw herself into the job with her customary energy and spirit, putting in up to 90 hours a month preaching the faith.

Many pioneers knock on doors, but Ruby became known for her street witnessing, and didn't mind walking many miles to spread the faith.

Another son, Charles Gamble Sr., said his mother would take that hike from Mount Airy to City Hall, preaching all the way, well into her 70s.

Besides her sons, she is survived by another son, Carl; two siblings, and 19 grandchilden.

A memorial service will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses, 6826 Ardleigh St.


Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @johnfmorrison.

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