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Pendergrass, Teddy 1950–

Teddy Pendergrass 1950

Vocalist

Blue Notes Drummer and Vocalist

Permanently Paralyzed by Crash

Returned to Recording and Performing

Selected discography

Sources

The consummate African American sex symbolofthe 1970smusic scene, Teddy Pendergrass gained unparalleled adulation from female fans for his suggestive crooning and his women-only concerts at which teddy bears were passed out to audience members. Prior to his solo career, he had already been in the spotlight for many years as the lead vocalist of one of the most lyrical and distinctive of the Philadelphia soul groups, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. In 1982, Pendergrass was in an automobile accident that left him a paraplegic. However, he was able to successfully resume his career.

Pendergrass was born in Philadelphia on March 26, 1950. His mother named him Theodore, which means gift from God, because she had suffered six previous miscarriages. His father Jesse, who had left the family and moved in with another woman, was murdered when Pendergrass was 12. As a young man, Pendergrass was ordained as a minister and he followed a religious lifestyle. His first exposure to secular music occurred in his early teens when his mother, who worked at a Philadelphia supper club, let him play some of the clubs musical instruments. Pendergrass soon taught himself to play several instruments and he joined several local musical groups in Philadelphia.

Blue Notes Drummer and Vocalist

In 1969, Pendergrass received his first big break when he signed on as the drummer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, a Philadelphia soul group. When the Blue Notes lead vocalist left the group the following year, Pendergrass replaced him and brought a new level of fame to the group. The Philadelphia soul sound pioneered by producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff during the 1970s combined a down-to-earth intensity with a more lyrical, mellow side. Pendergrasss baritone voice was vigorous, yet smooth, and was well-suited to the Philadelphia soul sound. Blue Notes hits such as If You Dont Know Me By Now and The Love I Lost made Pendergrass a singing sensation and helped to launch his solo career.

Pendergrass released his debut solo album, Teddy Pender-grass, in 1977. Two singles from the album, I Dont Love You Any More and the ballad The Whole Towns Laughing at Me, were modest hits. However, it was only when Pendergrass began to be marketed as a sex symbol that his career really took off. When he performed in concert, Pendergrass would launch into spectacular vocal outbursts that delighted throngs of adoring female fans.

At a Glance

Bom Theodore Pendergrass on March 26, 1950, in Philadelphia; married Karen Still, in June of 1987; children: Theodore Jr., Tamon, Tisha lazette, and LaDonna.

Career: R&B vocalist. Joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes as drummer, 1968; lead vocalist for the group, 197077, featured on major Blue Notes recordings such as If You Dont Know Me By Now; solo performer, 1977-; suffered permanent paralysis in auto crash, 1982; returned to recording and performing, mid-1980s; released You & I, 1997; released This Christmas, Id Rathe Have Love, 1998; wrote autobiography with Patricia Romanowski, Truly Blessed, 1998; active in disabled-welfare organizations.

Awards: Received numerous civic awards; Image Award, NAACP, 1973 and 1980.

Addresses: Agent -Dream Street Management, 1460 Fourth St., Suite 205, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

Many of these fans threw underwear on stage and reveled in his tank-top attire and seductive stage routines. Concerts were often billed as Ladies Only affairs and, in one notorious incident, one woman shot another after a struggle over Pendergrasss sweat-soaked head scarf.

Permanently Paralyzed by Crash

For a time, Pendergrass was arguably the most popular male star in R&B music. However, his life would be changed forever on the night of March 18, 1982, when the brakes on his Rolls-Royce failed, causing the car to hit a metal guardrail, cross into oncoming traffic, and ram into a tree. Pendergrass suffered a broken neck, a crushed spinal cord, and damage to vital nerves. He was unconscious for eight days and, when he regained consciousness, he realized that he was paralyzed below the waist and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Following his accident, Pendergrass contemplated suicide. In his 1998 autobiography, Truly Blessed, he remarked that he had once asked his wife to give him an overdose of sleeping pills. Pendergrass suffered severe depression and insomnia for years after the accident, but his road to recovery began when he gingerly tried out his voice by singing along with a coffee commercial on television. Although he had been warned that he might never sing again, Pendergrass found that his voice was still in working condition. Nothing ever sounded as sweet to my ears as my version of that silly damn jingle, he wrote in Truly Blessed. Pendergrass sought help from a quadriplegic therapist, who helped him exorcize thoughts of suicide through the staging of a mock funeral.

In addition to his disability, Pendergrass had to defend himself against rumors that his accident had been caused by excessive alcohol and drug use. Although Philadelphia police cited Pendergrass for reckless driving, they found no evidence that alcohol or drugs had contributed to the crash. Another rumor circulated that Pendergrasss passenger at the time of the accident, Tenika Watson, was actually a transsexual nightclub entertainer. Pendergrass denied any involvement with Watson, stating that he had simply offered a late-night ride to a woman with whom he had been casually acquainted.

Returned to Recording and Performing

His voice weakened by the crash but imbued with new emotional depth, Pendergrass slowly returned to work. In 1984, he released his first album since the accident. The album, Love Language, thrilled and inspired his many fans, and was certified platinum for sales of one million copies. Pendergrass made a live appearance at the Live Aid charity concert in 1985 and his 1988 album, Joy, put him back atop the R&B charts. Ron Wynn, in his review of Joy for the All-Music Guide, observed that Pendergrass sang in a slower, somber yet appealing way quite different from the swaggering, openly sexual, macho posturing of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was a weary but not beaten Pendergrass, whose manner and delivery under-scored the resilient theme in Joys lyrics.

With the constant support of his wife and his mother, Pendergrass has far exceeded the expectations of his doctors, who had predicted that Pendergrass would live only ten years after the accident. He kept up a moderate schedule of recording and touring, releasing the albums Truly Blessed (1991), You & I (1997), and This Christmas, Id Rather Have Love (1998), and touring with the traveling company of the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God in 1996. He founded the Pendergrass Institute for Music and Performing Arts to assist aspiring performers, and also supported causes that championed the rights of the disabled.

Selected discography

Life Is a Song Worth Singing, Philadelphia International, 1978.

Teddy, Philadelphia International, 1979.

T. P., Philadelphia International, 1980.

Live Coast to Coast, Philadelphia International, 1980.

Its Time for Teddy, Philadelphia International, 1981.

Teddy Pendergrass, Philadelphia International, 1982.

This Ones for You, Philadelphia International, 1982.

Heaven Only Knows, Philadelphia International, 1983.

Greatest Hits, Philadelphia International, 1984.

Love Language, Asylum, 1984.

Workin It Back, Asylum, 1985.

Joy, Asylum, 1988.

Truly Blessed, Elektra, 1991.

You&I, Elektra, 1997.

This Christmas, Id Rather Have Love, Elektra, 1998.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 3, Gale, 1990.

Erlewine, Michael, et al, eds., The All Music Guide to Rock, Miller-Freeman, 1998.

Graff, Gary, Josh Freedom du Lac, and Jim McFarlin, MusicHoundR&B: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink, 1998.

Pendergrass, Teddy, with Patricia Romanowski, Truly Blessed, Putnams, 1998.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Periodicals

Billboard, October 31, 1998, p. 23.

Entertainment Weekly, March 18, 1994, p. 112.

Jet, November 9, 1998, p. 56; April 5, 1999, p. 48.

James M. Manheim

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Manheim, James. "Pendergrass, Teddy 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Manheim, James. "Pendergrass, Teddy 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872400054.html

Manheim, James. "Pendergrass, Teddy 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1999. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2872400054.html

Pendergrass, Teddy

Teddy Pendergrass

Singer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Teddy Pendergrasss fame and fortune were built on his provocative stage presence and the intimate rapport he established with his audiences. Female fans frequently swooned or tossed their undergarments onstage in response to his earthy baritone and forthright sexuality; one fan even went so far as to shoot another in a struggle for a scarf the singer had used to wipe his face. Pendergrass was at the height of his popularity when a car accident left him a quadriplegicunable to feed or dress himself, let alone execute his charismatic stage moves. He could still sing, however, and within two years of the accident he had released his comeback album. His fans remained loyal, and many critics declared that Pendergrasss tragedy had brought new depth to his music.

Pendergrass began his career in 1968, not as a singer, but as the drummer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Within two years he had ascended to lead vocalist, and his personal sound came to define the group. In their Encyclopedia of Rock, Dave Hardy and Phil Laing described Pendergrasss singing on Blue Notes hits such as The Love I Lost, I Miss You, and If You Dont Know Me by Now, as tough, powerful mixing the styles of gospel and blues shouters whose intense delivery blended bravado and impassioned pleading in equal measure. He combined an earthy, sexual insistence on the more aggressively paced pieces with mellow, moodier vocal work on ballads, which hed gradually infuse with wilder, improvised and often quite histrionic outbursts.

In 1977, Pendergrass left the Blue Notes to pursue a solo career. Women were even more enthusiastic about seeing him alone on stage than they had been about watching him front the Blue Notes. They flocked to special For Women Only midnight shows to hear Pendergrass sing Close the Door, Turn Off the Lights, and other hits. As a solo performer, Pendergrass expanded his range to attract new listeners: a Stereo Review writer noted that while he still belted out his funky amorous entreaties with a raw virility that set many female libidos a-quiver, he had also learned to set aside his club and loincloth to sing tenderly, thereby reaching both those who like sweetness and those who prefer swagger. Nearly all his albums went platinum, and Pendergrass was acknowledged as the premier black sex symbol of the late 1970s.

Things changed dramatically on March 18, 1982. While Pendergrass was driving his Rolls-Royce through Philadelphias Germantown section, the vehicle jumped the center median and crashed into a tree. Pendergrass told Life: [After] the initial bang I opened my eyes, and I was still there. For a while I was conscious. I know I had broken my neck. It was obvious; I tried to make a move

For the Record

Full name, Theodore Pendergrass; born 1950 in Philadelphia, Pa.; married Karen Still (a dancer), June 1987; children: Theodore, Jr., Tamon (son), Tisha Lazette, LaDonna.

Played drums in James Browns band for a short time; joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes as drummer, 1968, lead singer, 1970-77, featured singer on hits, including The Love I Lost, I Miss You, and If You Dont Know Me By Now; solo performer, 1977. Executive director of the Coalition on Spinal Cord Injury.

Addresses: Office c/o 57 Crosley Brown Rd., Gladwyn, PA 19035.

and I couldnt. Pendergrass was correct in thinking that his neck was broken; his spinal cord was also crushed, and bone fragments had severed some vital nerves. Movement was limited to his head, shoulders, and biceps. When the full extent of the damage became apparent and doctors told him that his paralysis would probably be permanent, Pendergrass cried until his eyes looked like golf balls, he told Life. He was further informed that injuries such as his usually affect the breathing muscles and, consequently, the ability to sing. Several days after the accident, Pendergrass cautiously tested his voice by singing along with a coffee commercial on television. I could sing, he remembered, and I knew that anything else I had to do, I could do.

Pendergrasss first task was to ride out the ugly rumors that surrounded his mishap. He had been driving on a suspended license, and stories quickly spread that he was drunk or drugged when it occurred. After investigating the incident, Philadelphia police announced that they found no evidence of substance abuse in connection with it, although they speculated that reckless driving and excessive speed were involved. Next, it was revealed that Pendergrasss passenger, Tenika Watson, who was not seriously injured in the crash, was a transsexual entertainer. The former John F. Watson admitted to some thirty-seven arrests for prostitution and related offenses over a ten-year period. This news was potentially very damaging to Pendergrasss image as the ultimate macho man, but his fans quickly accepted his statement that he had merely offered a ride to a casual acquaintance and had no knowledge of Watsons occupation or history.

Once released from the hospital, Pendergrass faced the difficult period of adjustment to his new limitations. From the outset, he was determined that his handicap would not stop his career. I thrive on whatever kind of challenge I have to face he told Charles L. Sanders in Ebony. My philosophy has always been Bring me a brick wall, and if I cant jump over it Ill run right through it. After months of special therapy, including exercising with a heavy weight on his stomach in order to build up his weakened diaphragm, Pendergrass recorded Love Language. It became his sixth platinum album, affirming both his musical abilities and his fans loyalty. Another milestone in the singers recovery came at the 1985 Live Aid concert, when he made his first stage appearance since the accident, singing Reach Out and Touch with Ashford and Simpson. I dont know how to fully describe those few moments onstage, he confessed in People. Before I went on, I was scared, afraid of the unknown. Afterward I felt like I was larger than anybody there. It reaffirmed one very important fact to me, that it wasnt important that I shook my booty right or that I had legs that turned a certain way. What the audience most appreciated was what I was saying in the song.

I aint going to lie, this things a bitch, Pendergrass said of his paralysis. You go through living hell, through all kinds of anxieties, and you suffer enormous apprehensions about everything. At first you dont know how people will accept you, and you dont want to be seen. You dont want to do anything. Given thoughts like that, you dont want to live. But you have an option. You can give it up and call it quits, or you can go on. Ive decided to go on.

Selected discography

Solo LPs

Life Is a Song Worth Singing, Philadelphia International, 1978.

Teddy, Philadelphia International, 1979.

T.P., Philadelphia International, 1980.

Live Coast to Coast, Philadelphia International, 1980.

Its Time for Teddy, Philadelphia International, 1981.

Teddy Pendergrass, Philadelphia International, 1982.

This Ones For You, Philadelphia International, 1982.

Heaven Only Knows, Philadelphia International, 1983.

Greatest Hits, Philadephia International, 1984.

Love Language, Asylum, 1984.

Workin It Back, Asylum, 1985.

Joy, Asylum, 1988.

Sources

Books

Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, Macdonald, 1987.

Periodicals

Ebony, September 1984; February 1989.

Jet, December 18, 1980; April 5, 1982; April 19, 1982; May 17, 1982; May 31, 1982; July 6, 1987; July 20, 1987.

Life, June 1984.

People, January 13, 1986; June 27, 1988.

Stereo Review, December 1982; March 1984; June 1986.

Joan Goldsworthy

Cite this article
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"Pendergrass, Teddy." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Pendergrass, Teddy." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492100074.html

"Pendergrass, Teddy." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492100074.html

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