March 26: Teddy Pendergrass was born on this date in 1950...

... he died on January 13, 2010.

Born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pendergrass often sang at church, and planned to become a pastor. At 10, he was ordained a minister. He also took up drums during this time and sang with the Edison Mastersingers. He dropped out of school in the eleventh grade to enter the music business, recording his first song "Angel With Muddy Feet," which did not sell well.
Pendergrass played drums for serveral local Philadelphia bands, eventually becoming the drummer of the The Cadillacs.

In 1970, Teddy was spotted by the Blue Notes' founder, Harold Melvin, who convinced Pendergrass to play drums in the group. However, during a performance, Pendergrass began singing along, and Melvin, impressed by Pendergass's vocals, made him the lead singer. Up until then, the Blue Notes had struggled, but that soon changed when they landed a recording deal with Philadelphia International Records in 1971.

In 1972, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes released their first single, a slow, solemn ballad titled "I Miss You." The song was originally written for The Dells but the group passed on the song. Since Pendergrass sounded like Dells lead singer Marvin Junior, the label decided to have Pendergrass, then only 21, sing the song in a raspy baritone that became his trademark. The 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," reached 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. (Pendergrass and LaBelle developed a close lasting friendship.)

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Essential Teddy PendergrassTruly Blessed

The group rode to fame with several more releases over the years including "The Love I Lost," a song which predated the upcoming disco music scene; the ballad "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," "Wake Up Everybody" and "Bad Luck." One of the group's important singles was their original version of the Philly soul classic, "Don't Leave Me This Way."

By 1975, Pendergrass and Harold Melvin were not getting along, mainly over monetary issues and personality conflicts. At one point, Pendergrass wanted the group to be renamed "Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes" because fans kept mistaking him as Melvin. Pendergrass left the group in 1977 and the Blue Notes struggled with his replacements. By the early 1980s had disbanded for good.

In 1977, Pendergrass released his self-titled album, which went platinum and included the disco hit, "I Don't Love You Anymore." Its follow-up single, "The Whole Town's Laughing At Me," became a top 20 R&B hit. The album was quickly followed by Life Is a Song Worth Singing, in 1978. That album included the singles  "Only You" and "Close the Door." The disco single, "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose" was popular in dance clubs.

In 1979 he had two hit albums, Teddy and Live Coast to Coast. Hits off Teddy included "Come and Go With Me" and "Turn Off the Lights."

His 1980 album, TP, included his signature song, "Love TKO" and the Ashford & Simpson composition, "Is It Still Good to You." Between 1977 and 1981, Pendergrass landed five consecutive platinum albums, which was a then-record setting number for a rhythm and blues artist.

Pendergrass' popularity became huge by 1977. With sold-out audiences at his shows, Pendergrass' manager soon noticed that a huge number of his audience consisted mainly women. Pendergrass' next tour to have it with just female audiences only, starting a trend called "women's only concerts." Pendergrass was soon being called "the black Elvis." By early 1982, Pendergrass was the leading R&B male artist of his day usurping competition including closest rivals Marvin Gaye and Barry White.

On March 18, 1982, in the East Falls section of Philadelphia Pendergrass was involved in an automobile accident. The brakes failed on his 1981 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, causing the car to hit a guard rail, cross into the opposite traffic lane, and hit two trees. Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

In August 1982, his label released This One's for You, which failed to chart successfully, as did 1983's Heaven Only Knows. Both albums included material Pendergrass had recorded prior to his accident.

Pendergrass returned to the studio and released Love Language in 1984. The album included the pop ballad "Hold Me," featuring a then unknown Whitney Houston.

On July 13, 1985, Pendergrass returned to the stage at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia in front of a live audience of over 99,000 and 2 billion television viewers. It was the 35-year-old's first live performance following his 1982 accident.

In 1988, Pendergrass scored his first R&B number-one hit in nearly a decade when the new jack swing-styled "Joy," off his album of the same name, was released. It was his final Hot 100 charted single, peaking at number 77.

Pendergrass kept recording through the 1990s. One of the singer's final 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, Pendergrass released his autobiography entitled, Truly Blessed.

In 2006, 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 Pendergrass' accident date, but also raised money for his charity, The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, and honored those who helped Pendergrass since his accident.

On June 5, 2009, Pendergrass underwent successful surgery for colon cancer, but a few weeks later he returned to the hospital with respiratory issues. After seven months, he died of respiratory failure on January 13, 2010. He was 59 years-old.



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