Latest News

20 People Who Changed Black Music: Teddy Pendergrass, R&B's Romantic Mood-Setter

When it's time to dim the lights and put that special someone in the mood, certain names come to mind: Smokey, Luther, Marvin and Teddy.

For those coming of age in the late '70s and early '80s, Teddy Pendergrass was the man. Tall, slim and fine, with a perfectly trimmed beard and armed with a gorgeous smile, Pendergrass set a standard for romance with his "Ladies Only" concerts that made it tough for brothers with rougher edges. Women throwing flowers, phone numbers and panties on the stage during his concerts became standard fare.

Rhino.com described Pendergrass as a "veritable sultan of slow jams."

But if Pendergrass was a powerhouse for the lovelorn, he was a juggernaut for the music industry. After joining Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes in the late '60s, Pendergrass - an accomplished drummer - came to take the lead vocal spot in 1970 and propelled the group to a string of hits including, "I Miss You," "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "Bad Luck" and "Wake Up Everybody." The group spun two gold albums ("To Be True" and "Wake Up Everybody") for Philadelphia International Records, led by the legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

After several years, however, friction developed between Pendergrass and Melvin.

In several interviews after launching his solo career, Pendergrass said people often called him Harold, thinking Harold Melvin was the lead singer of the group. Melvin renamed the group to Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, featuring Theodore Pendergrass, but tensions remained. Pendergrass split with the group in 1976 and formed his own group, called The Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Sometime that year or in early 1977, Pendergrass went solo and signed a new contract with Philadelphia International. His first solo album, "Teddy Pendergrass," went platinum and featured the hit singles, "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "The More I Get the More I Want."

Throughout the remainder of the ‘70s and the early '80s, Pendergrass was a hit machine. He was the first black American singer to sell five platinum albums in a row: 1977's "Teddy Pendergrass," "Life Is A Song Worth Singing" in 1978, 1979's "Teddy" and "Live! Coast to Coast," and "TP" in 1980. He was nominated five times for a Grammy and racked up a string of awards, including Billboard's 1977 Pop Album New Artist Award, an American Music Award for best R&B performer of 1978 and an NAACP award.

According to several biographies, Pendergrass' success was not just predictable; it seemed ordained.

He was born March 26, 1950 in Philadelphia to Ida and Jesse Pendergrass. Ida Pendergrass discovered her son's vocal gifts when he was just two years old and began singing in church. By age six, he was selected for the All-City Elementary School Boys Choir. He became an ordained minister at the age of 10. In his early teens, he had become an accomplished, self-taught drummer, capable of picking up complicated rhythms by ear. He led a teen band when he was 15.

As a teenager, Pendergrass would sometimes accompany his mother to her job at a local supper club, where he would slip into the dining room and watch such performers such as Chubby Checker.

Pendergrass caught his first break while working as a waiter in an Atlantic City club, where singer Little Royal was performing. An audition was held to replace Little Royal's drummer, who was leaving at the end of the booking in Atlantic City. Pendergrass won the spot and joined the band's tour. He developed a reputation as popular drummer and picked up gigs easily. In 1969, he landed a gig with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and moved up to lead vocalist a year later.

In 1982, at the height of his career, Pendergrass was paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident at 1:30 in the morning in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, when the brakes failed on his Rolls Royce and the car struck a tree. His passenger, Tenika Watson, a transvestite exotic dancer, was treated and released from the hospital. Pendergrass spent six months in rehabilitation.

Many thought Pendergrass would never sing again, much less perform. But after completing physical therapy, he returned to the studio. In 1984, the album "Love Language," was released, featuring a duet called "Hold Me," with Whitney Houston. A year later, Pendergrass appeared in Philadelphia at Live Aid, a famine-relief fundraising concert with 60 of the world's major rock stars performing free over a 16-hour period simultaneously in Philadelphia and London and broadcast to nearly 2 billion viewers in 150 countries.

He continued recording through 2002. His 1988 album, "Joy," and a track on each of his next two albums, "Truly Blessed" and "A Little More Magic," were nominated for Grammys. In 1991, with author Patricia Romanowski, he penned his autobiography, "Truly Blessed."

Last year, he announced he was retiring from the music business. In May, however, in an interview on WBLS-FM in New York, Pendergrass said he would perform live at a concert on June 10 to benefit The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, a foundation formed to assist survivors of spinal cord injuries.

"Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope and Possibilities," will be a star-studded gala hosted by comedienne Mo'Nique and will feature performances from a range of celebrities, including Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills and Ruben Studdard.

  Comments