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American Soul Singer Teddy Pendergrass Dies

  • Doug Levine

Legendary rhythm-and-blues singer Teddy Pendergrass died of colon cancer January 13 at a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 59. The dynamic crooner was known to millions simply as "TP."

Although Teddy Pendergrass became famous for his smoldering baritone vocals and seductive stage presence, he first worked as a drummer in Philadelphia's premier soul group Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. When Teddy was promoted to lead singer, The Blue Notes rose to new heights on the Philly International Records label, producing one of the biggest R&B hits of 1972, "If You Don't Know Me By Now."

Teddy continued to record for Philly International after leaving Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes for a solo career in 1976. The label's co-founder and composer Leon Huff recalled the singer's solo debut at a nightclub in Los Angeles, saying "When Teddy walked out on the stage, he didn't even open his mouth and the place went crazy with screaming females."

Riding his success with five successive multi-platinum albums and a string of hit ballads like "Close The Door," Teddy's career suddenly took a tragic turn. In 1982, he was nearly killed in a car accident in Philadelphia that left him paralyzed from the waist down and bound to a wheelchair for life. While most thought he would never return to the stage or studio, Pendergrass surprised fans with his first appearance from his wheelchair at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

Teddy's first album after the accident was "Love Language," featuring the duet "Hold Me" with then up-and-coming singer Whitney Houston. He continued to record throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and he even starred in a touring company of the gospel musical "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God." In 1998, he released his autobiography, "Truly Blessed." Although he announced his retirement in 2006, he performed in "Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope and Possibilities" in 2007. The event raised money for his charity The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance.