Teddy Pendergrass: A Look Back At His Career

Here are some of the highlights from the R&B legend's nearly 40 years in the music business.

[artist id="14014"]Teddy Pendergrass[/artist], the 59-year-old Philadelphia soul legend who died on January 13 from complications due to colon cancer surgery, may be best remembered for a few things: gravelly ballads delivered sweat-drenched and bare-chested, quiet-storm mainstays such as “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “Close the Door” and a 1982 accident in his Rolls Royce that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

After that life-changing moment, he went through a gauntlet of surgeries and wrenched his way back to the recording studio (1984′s Love Language) and the stage (notably a Live Aid in 1985 and later in a late-’90s production of “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.”) But he had many other memorable moments.

1950: Theodore DeReese “Teddy” Pendergrass was born to Geraldine Epps and Jesse Pendergrass (who left the family early on and was murdered in 1962).

1952: Two-year-old Teddy stood on a chair at the Glad Tidings Baptist Church and sang “If I Could Write a Letter to Heaven.” In a 2007 interview, he recalled, “I was just a little bitty guy. I had to be seen. Always been my problem.”

1970: After a stint drumming for doo-wop group the Cadillacs, Teddy Pendergrass was hired as a backing drummer for the Blue Notes, led by Harold Melvin. When lead singer John Atkins quit the group, Pendergrass was promoted to frontman. While being a part of the Blue Notes propelled Teddy Pendergrass to national stardom, his competition with Harold Melvin lasted throughout and long after his days in the group.

1972: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label. The songwriting and production team wrote many of the group’s biggest hits, including “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “I Miss You.”

1975: Teddy Pendergrass sang Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Kenny Gamble recently said of Pendergrass’ voice, “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.”

1976: After an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Blue Notes to change their name to Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes, Teddy left to embark on a solo career.

1977: Teddy Pendergrass released his self-titled solo debut which reached #17 on the pop album charts and #5 on the R&B album charts. It included the singles “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me.”

1978: Teddy released Life Is a Song Worth Singing, which contained the #1 pop and R&B single “Close the Door.” Like many of Pendergrass’ songs, it was suggestive but not sexually explicit. “The females loved Teddy Pendergrass,” Gamble told the Associated Press. “The females were very attracted to him and his music.”

1982: The brakes failed on Teddy Pendergrass’ Rolls Royce Silver Spirit, causing the car to swerve into the opposite lane and hit two trees. Pendergrass’ passenger, Tenika Watson, was a transsexual nightclub performer, which added to the drama — rumors and jokes went on for years about their casual relationship. Four years later he spoke about the crash and recovery: ”You feel worthless because all of a sudden you aren’t the way you once were … I cried a lot. I was angry.”

1985: Teddy Pendergrass returned to the stage to perform at Live Aid from a wheelchair. About returning to perform again in the ’90s, he said he wanted to “test the audience to see if they still desired to see me — to see if I’m still desirable.”

1996: Teddy Pendergrass toured with Stephanie Mills in the musical “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.” While it was his first onstage role, he didn’t do any acting training. “I don’t think it took acting skills for me to do the part because it was dealing with a subject that is very close to me — Jesus Christ.”

2007: Teddy marked the 25th anniversary of his near-fatal accident with a star-studded gala, including Bill Cosby, Stephanie Mills, Musiq Soulchild and Patti LaBelle. “Instead of being saddened by this milestone, I am deeply overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to all the people who have helped me overcome the many fears and difficulties I would ultimately encounter as a disabled person,” he said.

2010: Teddy Pendergrass died as a result of colon cancer surgery. His son Teddy Pendergrass II said, “To all his fans who loved his music, thank you. He will live on through his music.”