Friday, January 15, 2010

R.I.P. Teddy P.!

Video: Close The Door Teddy Pendergrass Live

Teddy Pendergrass, Singer, Dies At 59

January 14, 2010
NEW YORK (AP) -- R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, who was one of the most electric and successful figures in music until a car crash 28 years ago left him in a wheelchair, has died of colon cancer. He was 59.

Pendergrass died Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia, where he had been hospitalized for months.

The singer's son, Teddy Pendergrass II, said his father underwent colon cancer surgery eight months ago and had ''a difficult recovery.''

Before the crash, Pendergrass established a new era of R&B with an explosive, raw voice that symbolized masculinity, passion and the joys and sorrow of romance in songs such as ''Close the Door,'' ''It Don't Hurt Now,'' ''Love T.K.O.'' and other hits that have since become classics.

He was an international superstar and sex symbol. His career was at its apex -- and still climbing.

Friend and longtime collaborator Kenny Gamble, of the renowned production duo Gamble & Huff, teamed with Pendergrass on his biggest hits and recalled how the singer was even working on a movie.

''He had about 10 platinum albums in a row, so he was a very, very successful recording artist and as a performing artist,'' Gamble said Thursday. ''He had a tremendous career ahead of him, and the accident sort of got in the way of many of those plans.''

Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, suffered a spinal cord injury in a 1982 car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down -- still able to sing but without his signature power. The image of the strong, virile lover was replaced with one that drew sympathy.

But instead of becoming bitter or depressed, Pendergrass created a new identity -- that as a role model, Gamble said.

''He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident,'' Gamble said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''In fact, he was very courageous.''

Pendergrass left a remarkable imprint on the music world as he ushered in a new era in R&B with his fiery, sensual and forceful brand of soul and his ladies' man image, burnished by his strikingly handsome looks.

Gamble said Pendergrass was one of a kind as an artist and boasted a powerful voice and ''a great magnetism.''

''He was a great baritone singer, and he had a real smooth sound, but he had a real rough sound, too, when he wanted to exert power in his voice,'' Gamble said.

But it wasn't Pendergrass' voice that got him his break in the music business -- it was his drum playing abilities. He met Harold Melvin, who was looking for replacement members for his group, the Blue Notes, and signed on to be the drummer. Later, he became the lead singer of the group, which became known as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

The band started working with Gamble and Leon Huff and had signature hits in the early 1970s with ''Wake Up Everybody'' and ''If You Don't Know Me by Now.''

But Pendergrass had creative differences with Melvin and soon left for a solo career, according to his Web site. It was then he would become a sex symbol for the R&B genre, working women into a frenzy with hits such as ''Only You'' and concerts dedicated for ladies only.

''The females,'' Gamble said, ''loved Teddy Pendergrass. The females were very attracted to him and his music.''

Unlike the songs of many of today's male R&B crooners, Pendergrass' music bordered on eroticism without explicit lyrics or coarse language -- just through the raw emotion in his voice. ''Turn Off the Lights'' was a tune that perhaps best represented the many moods of Pendergrass -- tender and coaxing yet strong as the song reaches its climax.

Fans were devastated when, at age 31, Pendergrass was critically injured after his Rolls-Royce hit a tree. He spent six months in a hospital and returned to recording the next year with the album ''Love Language.''

He continued to sing and recorded several albums, receiving Grammy nominations; perhaps his best-known hit after his crash was the inspirational song ''Life is a Song Worth Singing.''

''To all his fans who loved his music, thank you,'' his son said. ''He will live on through his music.''

It was 19 years before Pendergrass resumed performing at his own concerts. He made his return on Memorial Day weekend in 2001, with two sold-out shows in Atlantic City, N.J.

Gamble noted Pendergrass' charitable work for people with spinal cord injuries, his performances despite pain and his focus on the positive in the face of great challenges.

''He used to say something in his act in the wheelchair, 'Don't let the wheelchair fool you,' because he still proclaimed he was a lover,'' Gamble said.

But his career was never the same. Gamble said it was difficult for Pendergrass to project vocally like he once did: ''The breathing aspect of it, he wasn't really able to deal with it.''

And while he had albums, he was no longer seen as the sex symbol but more of a sympathetic, tragic figure, even though he still had a strong following among his core female fans.

After the accident, he dedicated much of his life to helping others with spinal cord injuries and founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to do just that. Gamble said he wanted to help others.

''In his quiet moments, he probably did a lot of reflection. But I never saw him pity himself. He stayed busy,'' Gamble said. ''(But) I feel that he's in a better place now. ... He doesn't have to go through that pain or whatever he was going through anymore.''


Associated Press writers Patrick Walters and Bob Lentz contributed to this report from Philadelphia.


Date: Thursday, January 14, 2010
By: Tonya Pendleton and Jackie Jones,

PHOTO GALLERY: Teddy Pendergrass Through the Years

PHILADELHIA, PA - The world of R&B has lost yet another musical icon. Singer/performer Teddy Pendergrass died Wednesday night in the aftermath of colon cancer surgery. The Grammy-nominated singer was pronounced dead at 9:50 p.m. at Bryn Mawr Hospital near his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The singer, known for his sultry love ballads, was the first black male singer to earn five straight multi-platinum records. He was one of the most prominent artists to be associated with Philadelphia International Records, the legendary Philadelphia-based label founded by production team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. His baritone voice, sexy songs and powerful stage presence made him one of the most significant artists of that era, on par with other Philadelphia International greats like the O’Jays. But as a soul singer, he was unparalleled, releasing classic after classic after his self-titled solo debut was released.

Pendergrass started out with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, another Philadelphia International act. He began as the group’s drummer, but soon became its lead singer and the voice of classic hits like “Bad Luck,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and “Wake Up Everybody.” By 1977, Pendergrass split from the Blue Notes to pursue a solo career. His self-titled debut included the hits “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me.”

His subsequent releases, including a dynamic live CD, propelled him into superstardom and made him a sex symbol around the world. Among sultry, old-school, soulful singers, "Teddy” was always in the mix, along with Luther, Smokey, Marvin – the singers who needed no last name when it came time to set the mood.

Tall, slim and fine, with a perfectly trimmed beard and armed with a gorgeous smile, Pendergrass set a standard for romance with his infamous “Ladies Only” concerts. Women throwing flowers, phone numbers and panties on the stage during his concerts became standard fare. The sexy shows sent his female fans into such frenzy that one woman was shot in the audience after a struggle over the head scarf he'd thrown out to them.

"He really was the last of a breed. There hasn't been a real raw, gospel-influenced, deep-voiced adult black male star since Teddy's peak,” said cultural critic, filmmaker, author and former Billboard R&B editor Nelson George in a Facebook conversation.

“Prince and Michael Jackson became the new standard, while Teddy defined grown ass man singing,” George said. “Teddy wasn't really for girls. His fans were women and his songs were about adult relationships. The sexiest moment in stage I've ever seen was Teddy and Stephanie Mills doing ‘Feel The Fire’ at Madison Square Garden You could feel the sex in the air. I'm not being gross - I'm being real. There were wet panties in the world's most famous arena. So that's what I remember."

"Teddy Pendergrass was a soul icon and the standard for what we know today as a rythym and blues sex symbol and heartthrob. Bobby Brown, Usher Raymond, D'Angelo, and new jacks like Trey Songz all stand on his shoulders in regards to being the guy who really captivates female audiences. His voice coupled with those classic Sound of Philadelphia grooves are timeless. He will be missed," said Mister Mann Frisby, a California-based writer originally from Philadelphia.

“I remember him most because of a conversation we had about how he, Diana Ross, and I all share the same birthday and how that made us all stubborn Aries,” Frisby said.

On March 18, 1982, Pendergrass’ career was derailed when he was involved in a controversial car accident in Philadelphia. The brakes failed on his Rolls Royce on a particularly challenging, winding road, and as a result, he became a quadriplegic. Depressed, Pendergrass thought about suicide, but rallied after some time recovering.

Though his voice never returned to its former power, Pendergrass started recording a year after the accident, eventually recording a total of six albums, starting with 1984’s “Love Language.” In 1985, he recorded the duet, “Hold Me,” with a promising new artist who would become a legend herself - Whitney Houston. In July of that year, he made a triumphant comeback to the stage at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, singing with Ashford and Simpson. Pendergrass went on to star in the touring company of “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God” with Stephanie Mills and released an autobiography, “Truly Blessed,” in 1988.

In 2005, Pendergrass announced an official retirement from the music industry, but returned to raise money for charity at his “Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities” benefit and tribute in 2007. The event raised money for his newly-formed foundation, the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, which raised funds and awareness for people suffering from spinal cord injuries.

Actor/singer Tyrese Gibson is attached as the star of an upcoming biopic about Pendergrass' life. Gibson spent the night at the hospital with Pendergrass during his illness and got to know him as they researched the film, along with longtime Will Smith associate and producer Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston.

“Teddy was a very, extremely strong man. This man flatlined a few times and just refused to go,” says Alston, a producer on the upcoming film, with Gibson and the Pendergrass family. “His mind was all there; his body just broke down. He was just a fighter. He wasn’t a pity case at all. The memorial will be a celebration because he wasn’t a sad case. From the moment I met him to the day he passed, he was a proud and strong man. Even though he was bound in the chair, he was very much a man. He lived a long, successful life.”

Radio and TV personality Dyana Williams knew Pendergrass for over 30 years.

“We have not seen the likes of a Teddy Pendergrass before nor will we again,” she says. “There will only be one Teddy Pendergrass, always. He was the singularly strongest person I’ve ever met. He was a very vibrant, alive person, full life prior to the accident. There was a period where he didn’t want to be here anymore, but that changed, and he decided to use his situation to help people with spinal cord injuries. He lobbied in Congress and raised money through his Teddy Pendergrass Alliance.”

Pendergrass is survived by his wife, Joan, his mother, Ida Pendergrass, and three children. There will be a public viewing – the date and time will be announced soon – at Philadelphia’s Enon Baptist Church.


“You’re My Latest, Greatest Inspiration”

“Love TKO”

“Close The Door” (Live)

“Come Go With Me”

“Turn Off The Lights”

“Feel The Fire” (with Stephanie Mills)

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