Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Teddy Pendergrass 1950 - 2010

Teddy Pendergrass
Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Teddy Pendergrass Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: Teddy Pendergrass 1st left Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: Teddy Pendergrass in biege checked jacket Teddy Pendergrass: Teddy Pendergrass 1977 Teddy Pendergrass: Life is a Song Worth Singing 1978 Teddy Pendergrass: Teddy 1979 Teddy Pendergrass: TP 1980 Teddy Pendergrass: It's Time For Love 1981 Teddy Pendergrass: This One's For You 1982 Teddy Pendergrass: Heaven Only Knows 1983 Teddy Pendergrass: Love Language 1984 Teddy Pendergrass: Workin' It Back 1985 Teddy Pendergrass: Joy 1988 Teddy Pendergrass: Truly Blessed 1991 Teddy Pendergrass: A Little More Magic 1993 Teddy Pendergrass: You And I 1997 Teddy Pendergrass first solo appearance @American Music Awards (Dick Clark Exec Producer) 1986 Teddy Pendergrass + Ashford & Simpson perform @JFK Stadium in Philly during Live Aid 1985

Theodore DeReese Pendergrass 'Teddy Pendergrass' was born at the Bryn Mawr Hospital on March 26th 1950 to Ida Geraldine Epps and Jesse Pendergrass in Philadelphia, and was one of the most popular R&B singers of our time.

Having first found his voice in the church at age two, he witnessed artists perform at the Supper Club where his mother worked. He secretly watching artists like Bobby Darin, Chubby Checker and Connie Francis perform and it was here, it was said, that Pendergrass found his passion. His father, estranged from his family at a comparatively young age was tragically murdered in 1962. And after dropping out of school in the 11th grade, his Church ties were still somewhat intact, as it was reported that Pendergrass became an ordained minister while still in his teens.

He soon joined a band called The Cadillacs in the late 60s as drummer, this group would then transform to become Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1970. And as the story goes; Pendergrass was named lead singer after coming from behind the drums to sing centre stage, while captivating the audience with his voice.

In '72 the group would go on to join super producers/writers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff 's then - CBS subsidiary Philadelphia International Records stable. Together they formed an integral part of music history, which would in turn help to define the Philadelphia Soul/Philly sound. At that time Pendergrass powerful voice was often compared to soul sensation Barry White. It was in this year that his baritone could be distinctly heard on the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes all time classic two million selling song 'If You Don't Know Me by Now', and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award. The song became a Number 1 hit across the world and opened the flood gates for other Pendergrass lead hits including 'The Love I Lost' , 'Bad Luck', 'I Miss You' and 'Wake Up Everybody' 1975. Teddy told the Chicago Free Press, "There was the Motown family, and next there was Philadelphia International Records, the Gamble and Huff era. They took music into a whole other realm. They opened it up, broadened it. In the Motown era...

Pendergrass would leave the group in '77 for a star-studied solo career, where his hits became even bigger and better. His self-titled 'Teddy Pendergrass' album went platinum, and the following 'Life Is A Song Worth Singing in 1978' easily doubled that. The seductive American rhythm-and-blues singer who's fans affectionally came to know him in the 70s' as "the black Elvis" and "Teddy Bear" would go on to establish a new era of Rn'B with hits such as Grammy Nominated, 'I Don't Love You Anymore' 1977, 'The Whole Town's laughing At Me' also in 1977, 'Close the Door' 1978, 'Turn Off The Lights' 1979, 'Love TKO' 1980, Grammy nominated 'I Can't Live Without Your Love' 1981 and 'It Should’ve Been You' 1991. Leon Huff recalled the singer's solo debut at a Los Angeles nightclub. "That night I saw the coming of a superstar," Huff also said in an interview with radio station WDAS. "When Teddy walked out on the stage, he didn't even open his mouth and the place went crazy with screaming females. He was just so dynamic and when he started singing, he just blew them away." His trophy cabinet, bulging at the sides, would soon match his talent as this prolific recording artist became the first black male to record five consecutive multi-platinum albums in a row. Which were the two previously mentioned albums plus Teddy 'in 1979, 'TP' in '80 and this last Philadelphia International Records album 'It's Time for Love' in 1981. Unfortunately he achieved slightly lower sales for 'This One's For You' in 1982, with only one release coming from the album called 'I Can't Win for Losing'. In total he received five Grammy nominations, Billboard's 1977 Pop Album New Artist Award and an American Music Award for best R&B performer amongst other accolades. His shows became known for an abundance of swooning women - they would also be referred to as "For Women Only" concerts.

However on March 18th 1982 it nearly all came to an end in Philadelphia, when Pendergrass was involved in a horrifying car accident. Whilst returning from a basketball game in his Silver Spirit Rolls- Royce, his breaks reportedly failed as he hit a guardrail and then into a bank of trees - smashing into a tree in the process. Pendergrass and passenger Tenika Watson, a transsexual nightclub performer with whom Pendergrass was casually acquainted - were trapped in the wreckage for 45 minutes. While Watson walked away from the accident with minor injuries, Pendergrass suffered a horrifying spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. However, being wheelchair-bound didn't stop his career as Pendergrass became angry, fighting back with the help of his former dancer and then wife (married in '87) Karen and his family - now amicably divorced, Karen was to stay on as Teddy's carer. Wheelchair bound, this determination was to help return the star to the studio to record just a year later with the album 'Love Language' - he would also go on to perform to great acclaim and thunderous applause at the '85 Live Aid concert. Also in that year he recorded the duet 'Hold Me' with a young Whitney Houston and as time went on his voice was heard, surprisingly, on CBS during March Madness (Basketball) - singing 'One Shining Moment.' Other significant material would then follow, reflecting the mood and crisis the singer was desperate to evade - even being nominated for a Grammy for the track 'Voodoo' in 1993.

His charity work would also excel as he became instrumental in setting up the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, a non-profit organisation focussed on helping individuals with spinal cord injuries. Pendergrass said he spent years wondering how his life would have turned out without the car accident - until he realised it was best to use his experience to help others, not to ponder “what might have been.” In his 1998 autobiography 'Truly Blessed,' co-written with Patricia Romanowski, he described waking up from the car crash after eight days of unconsciousness. It was his 32nd birthday, he said “it was the first day of my new life.” He also told Wax Poetics magazine in 2008 "My rehabilitation was totally due to the fact that I could still focus on continuing to make music". Although still able to sing, there were some reservations that the artist had lost his signature power. Kenny Gamble said: "He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident. In fact, he was very courageous." Gamble added. "He had about ten platinum albums in a row, so he was a very, very successful as recording artist and as a performing artist. He had a tremendous career ahead of him, and the accident sort of got in the way of many of those plans."

Pendergrass was to go on to make six more albums 'Love Language 1984', 'Workin' It Back' 1995, Grammy nominated 'Joy' 1988, 'Truly Blessed' 1991, 'A Little More Magic' 1993 and 'You And I' in 1997 before his retirement in 2006. Having retired from his beloved music career, he was only tempted back briefly in 2007 to perform to in 'Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities'. This was the 25th anniversary/awards ceremony that marked Pendergrass' accident - this event raised money for The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance and also honored the people that had a hand in his rehabilitation.

Teddy Pendergrass' "Quite Storm" suited voice (Quite Storm is a late-night radio format, featuring soulful slow jams - first heard in the mid-1970s) mixed with deep, rough and sexy unmistakable tones endorsed him as the legendary Prince of R&B. The artist had already achieved living legend status, and in death will forever hold that place in our hearts and lives. It was a somewhat sad irony that before his death he had been working on a musical documenting his life, this task would in turn seem to sum up his sprit as he was determined to finish the project despite suffering such bad health issues. His son Teddy, Jr. said his father had endured a rough recovery from surgery for his cancer, as on January 13 2010 Teddy Pendergrass passed away after a fight against colon cancer. Again it seems strangely fitting that the hospital in Pennsylvania was where he was born, was the very same hospital he died in - he was 59 years young. Lastly and with great sadness I can only echo what Teddy Pendergrass Jr said of his father in a statement to the Washington Post "He will live on through his music." Amen.

He will be remembered and hailed as one of the pioneer success stories in black music, defining the music and culture of the '70s and '80s and his contribution to the Philadelphia sound will live forever.

Teddy Pendergrass is survived by wife, Joan Pendergrass; Son Teddy JR, two daughters; his mother, Ida Pendergrass; two stepchildren; and seven grandchildren.

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