One of soul music’s most indelible voices has passed away. Teddy Pendergrass, the gruff-toned R&B superstar who shined as the genre’s biggest sex symbol for much of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, died Wednesday at the age of 59.
In a press statement, the singer’s son, Teddy Pendergrass II, said his father died at Bryn Mawr Hospital in suburban Philadelphia following his eight-month recovery from colon cancer. “To all his fans who loved his music, thank you,” his son said. “He will live on through his music.”
Born March 26, 1950 in Philadelphia, Pendergrass, a former drummer, first gained attention as a member of the ‘70s vocal group Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. After signing a deal with the legendary production duo Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, the heart-stirring singer lead the group to a string of hits including “I Miss You,” “Bad Luck,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and the socially conscious anthem “Wake Up Everybody.” Following a conflict with Melvin, Pendergrass launched a successful solo career that saw him become the premiere romantic balladeer of his time, scoring a string of gold and platinum albums including his self titled 1977 debut, Life Is A Song Worth Singing (1978), Teddy (1979), Live! Coast To Coast (1979), TP (1980), and It’s Time For Love (1981).
Pendergrass quickly became a popular live concert draw, garnering headlines for his groundbreaking “ladies only” gigs during which he kept females enthralled with such classic slow jams as “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Close the Door,” “Turn Off The Lights,” “Love T.K.O.,” and the Stephanie Mills duet “Two Hearts.”
But Pendergrass’ career was seemingly cut short on March 18, 1982, when on his way to a party in Philadelphia, he suffered a car crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Still, the wheelchair-bound singer proved to be a resilient inspiration. In 1985, he nearly stole the show when he made an emotional surprise appearance at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, his first public showing since the accident. Pendergrass also made a comeback with his 1985 single “Love 4/2” and in 1988 enjoyed a gold album, Joy, which became a top 3 R&B hit.
In 2006, Pendergrass announced his retirement from the music industry. His influence as a powerhouse vocalist is towering. ––Keith Murphy