In the late 1970s, and early 1980s, Philadelphia’s Teddy Pendergrass was the hottest soul singer on the planet. He had started as a drummer, got a gig with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and quickly became their lead singer with songs like “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” These days people think of Simply Red when they hear that song.
It was clear Pendergrass, who had considered being a preacher and was ordained at age 10, had a special voice even when he sang in choirs. When he left the Blue Notes for a solo career it took awhile but after he was marketed as a sex symbol he was all the rage. Women threw underwear at him. Some concerts were billed as women only.
He appeared headed for a huge career, but in 1982 his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud crashed. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Pendergrass fought the depression that always follows, and founded an organization to help other victims in the same way that the late Christopher Reeve did years later. Many have commented that Teddy’s voice was weakened by the paralysis, but it gave him a special feel. In songs like “In My Time” he sang about how he had had so many good things happen to him. He died in January of last year. His doctors were amazed he lived 28 years after the accident.
Pendergrass often reached out to help other artists. Whitney Houston became a star after singing “Hold Me” on Teddy’s Love Language.
The Grammys honored him, but only briefly, this week. Lady Antebellum sang three songs; only one was his. It seems a shame that someone who contributed as much to the music world and to those less fortunate as Pendergrass did should be remembered so lamely.