Introduction to the Delfonics

A summary on the Philly soul pioneers

The Delfonics were an R&B/soul vocal group, known for pioneering the Philly soul in the 1960s-1970s. Formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the group initially consisted of high-schoolers William Hart, Wilbert Hart, Randy Cain and Ritchie Daniels. Their earliest records were released on local labels in Philadelphia until their manager Stan Watson set up his own label Philly Groove, and producer Thom Bells would use a lush orchestration to back the group up in their songs. Daniels was drafted for the army and left in the late 1960s, cutting the Delfonics into a trio.

Nevertheless, the Delfonics were on to a big time, and the break came when their first single “La-La Means I Love You” hit it big on both pop and R&B singles charts in 1968. More hits came their way: “Break Your Promise”, “Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)”, “You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine”, and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”. A shift in the personnel happened when Cain left and was replaced by Major Harris in 1971. However, Harris left three years later. The group also experienced the downfall of their label Philly Groove. Afterwards they jumped to other labels such as Arista and Lorimar, releasing singles there that sank without a trace. Nevertheless, they soldiered on, this time with a newer lineup, continuing to tour and perform most particularly to the oldies circuit.

Early days

One of the earliest pioneers of the smooth, harmonic and very soulful style that was to become the “Philly sound”, The Delfonics formed in 1965 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The group included brothers William and Wilbert Hart and their buddies Ritchie Daniels and Randy Cain. They first got together singing doo-wop while they were still in high school.

Daniels was drafted in 1968, reducing the group into a trio. They eventually signed to a small label Cameo-Parkway, where they released a handful of little-known records. However, they caught the attention of producer/arranger Thom Bell, who signed the trio to his Philly Groove label in 1967.

The evolution of the Philly soul

The Delfonics recorded “La-La (Means I Love You),” which featured the prominently high falsetto of William Hart, who also wrote the song with Bell. The two would write more hits together in the ensuing years. Released in early 1968, “La La (Means I Love You)” was a huge smash, reaching at #4 and #2 on the pop and R&B charts, respectively.

This would commence a string of hits for The Delfonics. Another, The Delfonics and Thom Bell would set the type of sound as a totally opposite response to the gritty soul coming out of Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records. The group’s smooth, sleek and mellowed nuance came to be the Philly soul.

A few more hits before disbanding

The trio went on to score some more smashes such as “Break Your Promise” (#35 pop, #12 R&B), “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” (#35 pop, #14 R&B), “You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” (#40 pop, #6 R&B), “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)” (#10 pop, #3 R&B), and “Trying To Make A Fool Of Me” (#40 pop, #8 R&B).

Later singles didn’t perform as well on the charts as the 1970s began, and in 1971 Cain left the band and was replaced by Major Harris. However, four years later Harris also quit, ultimately spelling the end of the original The Delfonics group.

Later versions of the Delfonics

Harris built a solo career thereafter and also founded his own version of The Delfonics with Wilbert Hart and ex-Futures Frank Washington. On the other hand, William Hart also formed his own version of the group with new members. This made it all more confusing as the personnel of these different The Delfonics groups continued to shift. They also toured and even recorded one album in 1981.

In the 1990s, William Hart, Harris and Washington got together as another version of The Delfonics. They made several recordings and lent their vocals to hip hop rapper Ghostface Killah’s song “After the Smoke Has Cleared” in 1996. Their old hits, most especially “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)” also had begun to resurface prominently thanks to the Quentin Tarantino movie Jackie Brownin 1997.

Multiple versions of the group have continued to exist and tour, with the William Hart-led The Delfonics releasing Forever New in the revived Volt (Stax Records) label. Wilbert Hart also has continued to lead his own version of the group, sometimes spelled as The Delphonics or sometimes billed as the “New Delfonics” or “Wilbert Hart.”

Their songs are still relevant on the current musical climate, having been sampled by many hip hop and rap artists such as the Fugees, Wu-Tang Clan and Boyz II Men. Also, their songs have been covered by several other artists of different genres from the soul legend Aretha Franklin, pop boy band New Kids on The Block to rock star Todd Rundgren and sophisti-pop group Swing Out Sister.