Theodore DeReese Pendergrass, or Teddy Pendergrass, was an American R&B musician, born on 26 March 1950, in Kingstree, South Carolina. In a career that lasted for over 4 decades, Pendergrass became enthralled with the R&B scene of the 1970s and 1980s. In this period, he would learn the drums, guitar, piano and what he was most famously recognized for, his outstanding vocals. While Pendergrass dreamt of becoming a pastor in his early years, little did he know of the glory that awaited him in the next few decades. In the late 1960s, he began learning the drums and played for a number of bands, most famously The Cadillacs, before being spotted by the founder of Blue Notes, Harold Melvin.
While Teddy Pendergrass was primarily known for his drumming skills, Melvin realized that his vocals displayed just as much vigor and genuineness. In a jam session, he heard Pendergrass sing along to a recording, and was so impressed that Pendergrass was instantly made the new vocalist of the group. Thus began a marvelous musical journey, with Pendergrass featuring in many of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ songs in the early 1970s. Their first single came in the form of a catchy ballad tune, called “I Miss You”. Known for his raw baritone voice, Pendergrass was fully suitable to sing along with the music of the tune. This was one of many songs to become a hit single, firmly placing The Blue Notes on the professional radar.
Not long after, The Blue Notes released their second single, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, in September 1972. Like the previous hit single, this song was also meant to be recorded by another artist, Patti LaBelle, who would become Pendergrass’ friend until his death in 2008. However, due to his dominant bluesy voice, he was more suitable for the recording. The song reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 list and number 1 in the Soul Singles list. In the next few years, the group released a number of successful tunes, with the likes of “The Love I Lost” and “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” making the big stage in no time. Adding to their repertoire were songs made with social themes in mind, including “Wake Up Everybody” and “Bad Luck”, the latter based on the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s. Soon after, the group parted ways as a result of personality and monetary conflicts between Pendergrass and Melvin.
From 1977 up until 2008, Pendergrass pursued a solo career and released impressive singles and albums in this period. These included his first self-titled album, with the singles “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me” alone leading to the album achieving platinum status. His 1980 album TP was another addition to Pendergrass’ platinum collection, raising the total number to 5 platinum albums between 1977 to 1981. After his auto accident in 1982, Pendergrass took his time to return to producing albums and performing at live concerts again. His 1988 composition of “Joy” returned him to the number 1 spot as an R&B artist. Before his retirement in 2006, he performed many concerts such as “The Power of Love”, and continued to enthuse his audiences.
On January 13, 2010, Teddy Pendergrass passed away due to respiratory failure at the Bryn Mawr Hospital in Philadelphia.