Theodore DeRees “Teddy” Pendergrass , Sr, (March 26, 1950 – January 13, 2010) was an American R&B/soul singer and songwriter.
Also known by the nicknames Teddy P, TP or Teddy Bear, Pendergrass first rose to fame as lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in the 1970s before embarking on a successful solo career at the end of the decade.
Teddy Pendergrass was born to Ida Geraldine Epps and the late Jesse Pendergrass (murdered in 1962), who left when Pendergrass was young and was not a part of his life. He was a student at the old Thomas Edison High School for Boys in Philadelphia. Teddy sang with the Edison Mastersingers. However, he dropped out in the 11th grade to go into the music business. According to author Robert Ewell Greene, Pendergrass was ordained a minister as a youngster. Later he was to become a drummer for a band, and later lead singer. The church was his initiation for talent and eventual success.
Pendergrass’s career began when he was a drummer for The Cadillacs, which soon merged with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Melvin invited Pendergrass to become the lead singer after he jumped from the rear of a stage and started singing his heart out. Months later the group signed with Gamble & Huff on the then CBS subsidiary Philadelphia International Records in 1972. The Blue Notes had hits such as “I Miss You,” “Bad Luck,” “Wake Up Everybody,” the two million seller “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and many more. Following personality conflicts between Melvin and Pendergrass, Pendergrass launched a solo career and released hit singles like “The More I Get the More I Want,” “Close the Door,” “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Turn Off the Lights” and others.
His first solo album was self titled Teddy Pendergrass (1977), followed by Life is a Song Worth Singing (1978), Live Coast to Coast and Teddy (1979), 1980′s TP and the final Philadelphia International Records album It’s Time for Love (1981). He also sang a duet with Whitney Houston on “Hold Me”, from her self-titled debut album.
On March 18, 1982, in the Germantown section of Philadelphia on Lincoln Drive, Pendergrass was involved in an automobile accident. The brakes failed on his 1981 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, causing the car to hit a guard rail, cross into the opposite traffic lane, and hit two trees. Pendergrass and his passenger, Tenika Watson, a transsexual nightclub performer with whom Pendergrass was casually acquainted, were trapped in the wreckage for 45 minutes. While Watson walked away from the accident with minor injuries, Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
In August 1982, PIR also released This One’s for You, while Pendergrass was recovering from his accident. In 1983, the album Heaven Only Knows was released. This was his last album containing his pre-accident recordings. Ten years after the accident, he recorded a version of “One Shining Moment,” the theme for March Madness Basketball on CBS.
After completing physical therapy, he returned to the studio to record the album Love Language, featuring the 1984 ballad “Hold Me”, a duet with a then-unknown Whitney Houston. He also returned to the public for a performance on July 13, 1985, at the historic Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, then continued to record throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, he starred alongside Stephanie Mills in the touring production of the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. In 1998, Pendergrass released his autobiography entitled, Truly Blessed.
In 2006, Pendergrass announced his retirement from the music business. In 2007, he briefly returned to performing to participate in Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities, a 25th anniversary awards ceremony that marked Pendergrass’ accident date, but also raised money for his charity, The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, and honored those who helped Pendergrass since his accident.
In 2009, Pendergrass underwent colon cancer surgery and had difficulty recovering. He died on January 13, 2010, at age 59, while hospitalized at Bryn Mawr Hospital in suburban Philadelphia.