A Rockapaedia Obituary
Band: Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes
Teddy Pendergrass died aged fifty-nine from respiratory failure on 13th June 2010 with his wife Joan by his side, at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. His body was interred at the West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. He was survived by his wife and daughters Tisha and Ladonna and son Theodire Jr.
Teddy Pendergrass was born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass on 26th March 1950, the only child of Jesse and Ida Geraldine Pendergrass. When he was still very young, his father left the family and was fatally stabbed oin 1962. Teddy Pendergrass grew up in Philadelphia and often sang at church. He dreamed of being a pastor and got his wish when, at ten, he was ordained a minister. Teddy Pendergrass also took up drums during this time and was a junior deacon of his church.
He attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys in North Philadelphia. He sang with the Edison Mastersingers. He dropped out in the eleventh grade to enter the music business and recorded his first song, "Angel With Muddy Feet". The recording, however, was not a commercial success. Teddy Pendergrass played drums for several local Philadelphia bands, eventually becoming the drummer of The Cadillacs. In 1970, he was spotted by the Blue Notes' founder, Harold Melvin , who convinced Teddy Pendergrass to play drums in the group. However, during a performance, Teddy Pendergrass began singing along, and Melvin, impressed by his vocals, made him the lead singer. Before Teddy Pendergrass joined the group, the Blue Notes had struggled to find success. That all changed when they landed a recording deal with Philadelphia International Records in 1971, thus beginning Teddy Pendergrass's successful collaboration with label founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
In 1972, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes released their first single, a slow, solemn ballad entitled "I Miss You". The song was originally written for The Dells, but that group passed on it. Noting how Teddy Pendergrass sounded like Dells lead singer Marvin Junior, Kenny Gamble decided to build the song with Teddy Pendergrass, who was only twenty-one at the time of the recording. Teddy Pendergrass sings much of the song in a raspy baritone voice that would become his trademark. The song also featured Blue Notes member Lloyd Parks singing falsetto in the background and spotlighted Harold Melvin adding in a rap near the end of the song as Teddy Pendergrass kept singing, feigning tears. The song, one of Gamble and Huff's most creative productions, became a major rhythm and blues hit and put the Blue Notes on the map. The group's follow-up single, "If You Don't Know Me by Now," brought the group to the mainstream with the song reaching the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, while also reaching number one on the soul singles chart. Like "I Miss You" before it, the song was originally intended for a different artist, fellow Philadelphian native Patti LaBelle and her group Labelle but the group could not record it due to scheduling conflicts. Teddy Pendergrass and LaBelle developed a close friendship that would last until Teddy Pendergrass's death.
The group rode to fame with several more releases over the years including "The Love I Lost", a song that predated the upcoming disco music scene, the ballad "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," and socially conscious singles "Wake Up Everybody" and "Bad Luck,"One of the group's notable singles was their original version of the Philly soul classic "Don't Leave Me This Way," which turned into a disco smash when Motown artist Thelma Houston released her version in 1976. By 1975, Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin were at odds, mainly over financial issues and personality conflicts. Despite the fact that Teddy Pendergrass sang most of the group's songs, Melvin was controlling the group's finances. At one point, Teddy Pendergrass wanted the group to be renamed "Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes" because fans kept mistaking him for Melvin. Teddy Pendergrass left the group in 1975, and the Blue Notes struggled with his replacements. They eventually left Philadelphia International and toiled in relative obscurity, until Melvin's death in 1997.
In 1977, Teddy Pendergrass released his self-titled album, which went platinum on the strength of the disco hit "I Don't Love You Anymore", Its follow-up single, "The Whole Town's Laughing At Me", became a top twenty Rythm&Blues hit. Although not released as singles, the uptempo album tracks "You Can't Hide From Yourself" and "The More I Get, The More I Want", as well as the ballad "And If I Had" were also hits. The debut album was quickly followed by Life Is a Song Worth Singing, in 1978. That album was even more successful with its singles "Only You" and the classic million selling number one Rythm&Blues hit "Close the Door." The latter song firmly established Teddy Pendergrass as the top male sex symbol in music. The album's popularity was furthered by the disco hit "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose", the ballad "It Don't Hurt Now", and the mid-tempo classic "When Somebody Loves You Back". That double platinum number-one Rythm&Blues triumph was followed up in the year 1979 by two successes, the albums Teddy (which stayed at number 1 on the Billboard Rythm&Blues chart for 8 weeks and was named the 2nd biggest Rythm&Blues album of the year), and the live release Live Coast to Coast. Hits off Teddy included the classics "Come Go With Me," the legendary erotic ballad "Turn Off the Lights," and the uptempo album cut "Do Me." With his sex appeal at an all-time high after his 1979 tour, Teddy Pendergrass took a more mellow approach on his 1980 album TP. It included the classic number two Rythm&Blues hit "Love TKO," the Stephanie Mills duet version of "Feel The Fire" and the Ashford & Simpson composition "Is It Still Good to You". Between 1977 and 1981, Teddy Pendergrass landed four consecutive platinum albums, which was a then record-setting number for a rhythm and blues artist.
Teddy Pendergrass' popularity became massive at the end of 1978. With sold-out audiences packing his shows, his manager - the renowned Shep Gordon, who was known for his innovative approaches to publicizing his artists - soon noticed that a huge number of his audience consisted of women of all races. Gordon devised a plan for Teddy Pendergrass' next tour to play to just female audiences, starting a trend that continues today called "women-only concerts." With four platinum albums and two gold albums, Teddy Pendergrass was on his way to being what the media called "the black Elvis," not only in terms of his crossover popularity but also due to him buying a mansion akin to Elvis' Graceland, located just outside his hometown of Philadelphia. By early 1982, Teddy Pendergrass was perhaps the leading Rythm&Blues male artist of his day, equaling the popularity of Marvin Gaye, and surpassing Barry White and all others in the Rythm&Blues field. In 1980, the Isley Brothers released "Don't Say Goodnight" to compete with Teddy Pendergrass' "Turn Off the Lights," which sensed Teddy Pendergrass' influence on the quiet storm format of black music.
On 18th March 1982, in the East Falls section of Philadelphia on Lincoln Drive near Rittenhouse Street, Teddy Pendergrass was involved in an automobile accident. He lost control of his Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit - the car hit a guard rail, crossed into the opposite traffic lane, and hit two trees. Teddy Pendergrass and his passenger, Tenika Watson, a nightclub performer with whom Teddy Pendergrass was not previously acquainted, were trapped in the wreckage for forty-five minutes. While Watson walked away from the accident with minor injuries, Teddy Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.
Teddy Pendergrass got well-wishes from thousands of his fans during his recovery. In August 1982, Philadelphia International released This One's for You, which failed to chart successfully, as did 1983's Heaven Only Knows. Both albums included material Teddy Pendergrass had recorded before his accident. The albums completed his contract with Philadelphia International. By the time Teddy Pendergrass decided to return to the studio to work on new music he had struggled to find a recording deal. Eventually signing a contract and completing physical therapy, he released Love Language in 1984. The album included the pop ballad "Hold Me," featuring a then-unknown Whitney Houston. It reached number 38 on the Billboard album chart and was certified Gold by the RIAA.
On 13th July 1985, Teddy Pendergrass made an emotional return to the stage at the historic Live Aid concert in Philadelphia in front of a live audience of over 99,000 and an estimated 1.5 billion television viewers. It was the 35-year-old's first live performance following his 1982 accident. Teddy Pendergrass tearfully thanked the audience for keeping him in their well-wishes and then performed the Diana Ross classic "Reach Out and Touch." In 1988, Teddy Pendergrass scored his first Rythm&Blues number-one hit in nearly a decade when the new jack swing-styled "Joy," from his album of the same name, was released. A video of the song enjoyed heavy rotation on BET. It was also his final Hot 100 charted single, peaking at number seventy-seven. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA that same year. Also, Teddy Pendergrass' voice was heard on the jingles of a then local Philadelphia radio station, WSNI-FM. Teddy Pendergrass kept recording through the 1990s. One of the singer's last hits was the hip-hop leaning "Believe in Love," released in 1994. In 1996, he starred alongside Stephanie Mills in the touring production of the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. In 1998, Teddy Pendergrass released his autobiography entitled Truly Blessed.
Teddy Pendergrass did a concert at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, California, on 14th February 2002, entitled "The Power of Love". The concert became the album From Teddy, With Love, which was released on the Razor & Tie record label later that year. It was his second (after Live! Coast to Coast) and final live album. Clips of the concert, in particular his performance of his comeback song "Joy" can still be seen on YouTube.
In 2006, Teddy Pendergrass announced his retirement from the music business. In 2007, he briefly returned to performing to participate in Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities, a 25th anniversary awards ceremony that marked Teddy's accident date, but also raised money for his charity, The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, and honored those who helped him since his accident.
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