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Gone But Not Forgotten: Teddy Pendergrass

Remembering Teddy Pendergrass, 3/26/1950 - 1/13/2010
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    Teddy Pendergrass, 3/26/1950 - 1/13/2010
    Teddy Pendergrass, one of the leading male R&B stars of the 70s and one of the most electric performers of his time died at the age of 59 of colon cancer and ultimately respiratory failure. He continued his career even after life as a paraplegic for 28 years. Teddy Pendergrass is shown here in his prime, live in concert in 1981. Photo: WireImage
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    It wasn't Pendergrass' incredible voice that got him his break in the music business. It was his drum playing. He met Harold Melvin, who was looking for replacement members for his group, the Blue Notes, and initially signed on as their drummer. With his incredible voice he soon became the lead singer of the group. Beginning with "I Miss You", they had a steady stream of hits during the early 70s - early hits for the legendary Philadelphia International Records.
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    Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' list of landmark hits includes "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "Bad Luck", "The Love I Lost", "Don't Leave Me This Way", and "Wake Up Everybody".
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    Pictured: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - Wake Up Everybody (1975) with the title track and "Don't Leave Me This Way". Unfortunately, friction grew between Melvin and Pendergrass when the billing of the group was revised to "Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass". The act split, leading to a confusing situation - both Melvin and Pendergrass led two Blue Notes for a short time in 1976.
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    Pendergrass soon disbanded his Blue Notes in favor of a solo career. In 1977, Teddy Pendergrass was released with hits "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "The More I Get, The More I Want". A sex symbol with equally sexy songs and a heavily female fan base, Teddy Pendergrass began staging "Ladies Only" concerts.
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    With the continued success of albums Life Is a Song Worth Singing in 1978, Teddy in 1979 and TP in 1980 with a string of hits - "Close the Door", "Turn Off the Lights", "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose", and signature tune "Love TKO" - Pendergrass was at the height of his powers, and was even dubbed the "Black Elvis" at one point.
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    Teddy Pendergrass - Teddy (1979). On Teddy the hushed tone and bedroom motifs that had made "Close the Door" such a breakout success the previous year were continued with the back-to-back seducers penned by Gamble & Huff "Come Go with Me" and "Turn Off The Lights".
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    Teddy Pendergrass - TP (1980). At the dawn of the 80s Teddy Pendergrass reached the pinnacle of his success with TP's two Top Ten singles - "Can't We Try" and "Love TKO". With this release Pendergrass had become the first black male singer in history to score five consecutive multi-platinum albums.
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    At the peak of his fame, disaster struck. A car accident left him a paraplegic. After two years of physical therapy, Teddy Pendergrass released his first album of new material, 1984's Love Language, which featured a pre-fame Whitney Houston. On July 13, 1985, he made an emotional return to the stage at Live Aid. Introduced by Nickolas Ashford, he performed Ashford and Simpson's "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand).
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    Teddy Pendergrass scored another hit in 1988 with the new jack swing-styled "Joy", and he continued recording through the 90s. His live performances were understandably less frequent though still dynamic. Philadelphia International Records founder Kenneth Gamble said, "He used to say something in his act in the wheelchair, 'Don't let the wheelchair fool you,' because he still proclaimed he was a lover." Photo: Getty Images
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    Teddy Pendergrass shown performing at the opening NFL game at the Lincoln Financial Center in Philadelphia September 8, 2003. After the accident, he dedicated much of his life to helping others with spinal cord injuries and founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to do just that. Photo: Getty Images