Robert “Big Sonny” Edwards, an original member of The Intruders, died Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, at a hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was 74.
His death was announced by Philadelphia International Records co-founders and R&B pioneers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
The Intruders were the first group to have national hit songs under Gamble & Huff’s fledgling Gamble Label.
“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,” Gamble and Huff said in a joint statement.
“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.”
Phil Terry, The Intruders sole surviving member, said Edwards was not only his longtime friend for more than 59 years, he was like a brother to him.
“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,” Terry said.
“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, originally a Philadelphia doo-wop group, was comprised of Edwards, Terry, lead singer Sam “Little Sonny” Brown and Eugene “Bird” Daughtry. They 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.”
The Intruders’ major breakthrough came in 1968, when “Cowboys to Girls,” topped the R&B charts and climbed to No. 6 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,” “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” “(Win Place or Show) She’s A Winner,” and “I Wanna Know Your Name.”
The Intruders received a bronze plaque along the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 1996. In 2010, Edwards and 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 at Citizens Bank Park.
He is survived by: his wife, Deborah Edwards; son, Nijer Edwards; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Oct. 29 at noon at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 19th and Somerset streets.