Teddy Pendergrass, the former lead singer of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and one of most electric and iconic singers to emerge in the early R&B and disco era, has died of colon cancer. Pendergrass was only 59 years old.
Pendergrass' son, Teddy Pendergrass II, told the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper that his father died on Wednesday at a Philadelphia-area hospital. He had undergone colon cancer surgery eight months ago and his son said he had a difficult recovery. Pendergrass began his career as a drummer but first rose to fame in the 1970s when he became lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, which had hits such as "If You Don't Know Me by Now" and "I Miss You." After leaving the Blue Notes for a solo career, he had a string of hit love ballads that were considered musical aphrodisiacs by his fans. His solo hits, notable for his smooth baritone and sensual delivery, included "I Don't Love You Anymore," "Close the Door," "Turn off the Lights" and "Love TKO."
Pendergrass crashed his Rolls-Royce in Philadelphia in 1982 and was left paralyzed from the waist down. He resumed his recording career the next year with the album "Love Language" and returned to the stage by performing from his wheelchair at the Live Aid concert in 1985.
The passenger in the car crash, Tenika Watson, was relatively unhurt. Watson turned out to be a well-known Philadelphia transgender nightclub performer. Pendergrass would only say that Watson was a "casual acquaintance" whom he was giving a ride home. Pendergrass refused to discuss the circumstances of the accident beyond that.
Pendergrass' powerful voice, sensual baritone and raw emotion were among the signatures of the so-called "Philly Sound" and Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records. His early work with Harold Melvin & Blue Notes, such as "The Love I Lost", "Bad Luck" and the brilliant cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" defined gay dance music in the 1970s and 1980s. They were also the backbone of the black, gay Chicago- and New York- inspired "house" aesthetic that has gradually re-defined dance music across the world.
In the spring of 2008, Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater debuted "I Am Who I Am: The Story of Teddy Pendergrass". The last half of the play concentrated on the accident, Teddy's post-accident career and questions about his sexuality. Speaking to a reporter at the Chicago Free Press, the LGBT weekly, Pendergrass refused to discuss the production and claimed he was unaware of music's impact on the gay community. Said Pendergrass: "My music appeals to everybody. No, I don’t keep a running list of who listens and who doesn’t. That’s not my job."
So many songs, so many memories, especially on the dance floors at 7am when the electric "Bad Luck" was often the last call song and the reverb was through the roof. The last two minutes of that track still send chills through my body. That and more of Teddy's best WHEN YOU JUMP ...