Full name, Theodore Pendergrass; born 1950 in Philadelphia, Pa.; married Karen Still (a dancer), June 1987; children: Theodore, Jr., Tamon (son), Tisha Lazette, LaDonna. Addresses: Office --c/o 57 Crosley Brown Rd., Gladwyn, PA 19035.

Teddy Pendergrass's fame and fortune were built on his provocative stage presence and the intimate rapport he established with his audiences. Female fans frequently swooned or tossed their undergarments onstage in response to his earthy baritone and forthright sexuality; one fan even went so far as to shoot another in a struggle for a scarf the singer had used to wipe his face. Pendergrass was at the height of his popularity when a car accident left him a quadraplegic--unable to feed or dress himself, let alone execute his charismatic stage moves. He could still sing, however, and within two years of the accident he had released his comeback album. His fans remained loyal, and many critics declared that Pendergrass's tragedy had brought new depth to his music.

Pendergrass began his career in 1968, not as a singer, but as the drummer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Within two years he had ascended to lead vocalist, and his personal sound came to define the group. In their Encyclopedia of Rock, Dave Hardy and Phil Laing described Pendergrass's singing on Blue Notes hits such as "The Love I Lost," "I Miss You," and "If You Don't Know Me by Now," as "tough, powerful ... mixing the styles of gospel and blues shouters whose intense delivery blended bravado and impassioned pleading in equal measure." He combined an "earthy, sexual insistence on the more aggressively paced pieces with mellow, moodier vocal work on ballads, which he'd gradually infuse with wilder, improvised and often quite histrionic outbursts."

In 1977, Pendergrass left the Blue Notes to pursue a solo career. Women were even more enthusiastic about seeing him alone on stage than they had been about watching him front the Blue Notes. They flocked to special "For Women Only" midnight shows to hear Pendergrass sing "Close the Door," "Turn Off the Lights," and other hits. As a solo performer, Pendergrass expanded his range to attract new listeners: a Stereo Review writer noted that while he still "belted out his funky amorous entreaties with a raw virility that set many female libidos a-quiver," he had also learned to "set aside his club and loincloth to sing tenderly," thereby "reaching both those who like sweetness and those who prefer swagger." Nearly all his albums went platinum, and Pendergrass was acknowledged as the premier black sex symbol of the late 1970s.

Things changed dramatically on March 18, 1982. While Pendergrass was driving his Rolls-Royce through Philadelphia's Germantown section, the vehicle jumped the center median and crashed into a tree. Pendergrass told Life: "[After] the initial bang I opened my eyes, and I was still there. For a while I was conscious. I know I had broken my neck. It was obvious; I tried to make a move and I couldn't." Pendergrass was correct in thinking that his neck was broken; his spinal cord was also crushed, and bone fragments had severed some vital nerves. Movement was limited to his head, shoulders, and biceps. When the full extent of the damage became apparent and doctors told him that his paralysis would probably be permanent, Pendergrass cried until his "eyes looked like golf balls," he told Life. He was further informed that injuries such as his usually affect the breathing muscles and, consequently, the ability to sing. Several days after the accident, Pendergrass cautiously tested his voice by singing along with a coffee commercial on television. "I could sing," he remembered, "and I knew that anything else I had to do, I could do."

Pendergrass's first task was to ride out the ugly rumors that surrounded his mishap. He had been driving on a suspended license, and stories quickly spread that he was drunk or drugged when it occurred. After investigating the incident, Philadelphia police announced that they found no evidence of substance abuse in connection with it, although they speculated that reckless driving and excessive speed were involved. Next, it was revealed that Pendergrass's passenger, Tenika Watson, who was not seriously injured in the crash, was a transsexual entertainer. The former John F. Watson admitted to some thirty-seven arrests for prostitution and related offenses over a ten-year period. This news was potentially very damaging to Pendergrass's image as the ultimate macho man, but his fans quickly accepted his statement that he had merely offered a ride to a casual acquaintance and had no knowledge of Watson's occupation or history.

Once released from the hospital, Pendergrass faced the difficult period of adjustment to his new limitations. From the outset, he was determined that his handicap would not stop his career. "I thrive on whatever kind of challenge I have to face" he told Charles L. Sanders in Ebony. "My philosophy has always been 'Bring me a brick wall, and if I can't jump over it I'll run right through it." After months of special therapy, including exercising with a heavy weight on his stomach in order to build up his weakened diaphragm, Pendergrass recorded Love Language. It became his sixth platinum album, affirming both his musical abilities and his fans' loyalty. Another milestone in the singer's recovery came at the 1985 Live Aid concert, when he made his first stage appearance since the accident, singing "Reach Out and Touch" with Ashford and Simpson. "I don't know how to fully describe those few moments onstage," he confessed in People. "Before I went on, I was scared, afraid of the unknown. Afterward I felt like I was larger than anybody there. It reaffirmed one very important fact to me, that it wasn't important that I shook my booty right or that I had legs that turned a certain way. What the audience most appreciated was what I was saying in the song."

"I ain't going to lie, this thing's a bitch," Pendergrass said of his paralysis. "You go through living hell, through all kinds of anxieties, and you suffer enormous apprehensions about everything. At first you don't know how people will accept you, and you don't want to be seen. You don't want to do anything. Given thoughts like that, you don't want to live. But ... you have an option. You can give it up and call it quits, or you can go on. I've decided to go on."

by Joan Goldsworthy

Teddy Pendergrass's Career

Played drums in James Brown's band for a short time; joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes as drummer, 1968, lead singer, 1970-77, featured singer on hits, including "The Love I Lost," "I Miss You," and "If You Don't Know Me By Now"; solo performer, 1977--. Executive director of the Coalition on Spinal Cord Injury.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

July 8, 2003: Pendergrass's album, Anthology, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921984234, July 11, 2003.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 7 years ago

Teddy, Teddy, Teddy... I don't know where to begin... You have meant so much to so many. I will TRULY miss you. Today, I have reflect on your entire life and WHAT A LIFE you have lived. GOD granted you so much, a wonderful mother, loving wifes, children, family and fans! I can't explain all what I feel, but I wish I could be at the service. Philly will NOT be the same without you and I reside in Texas. I know the aroma you carry with you in each city, each state, each country and EVERY lady you have impacted some how, someway through a song! WOW! From your birthday celebrations that I've done ON MY OWN in Texas, from the Teddy Jeans, that I've worn and from the ALBUMS that I have collected, you will never be forgotten. Somehow, I feel like I know you personally. I remember you last concert in Texas, in Houston at the Arena and you did so well. I remember your automobile accide and where I was at that very moment when I got the news. I couldn't function, thinking you were hurt, but GOD spared you and kept you alive. Today, I'm sad in heart, but not in spirit. I know you are in a much better place and I will forever love you and your music. THANKS TEDDY. There's none like you.. I MEAN NONE! ENJOY heaven and I'll see you when I get there! Your TEXAS FAN... Ursula Joiner Burns

about 7 years ago

I will miss the Teddy bear TP. I grew up listening and attending shows featuring TP, Harold Melvin & Bluenotes in Philly. I owned a pair of Teddy jeans for awhile. He will always be in my prayers. He was one of the best.

about 7 years ago

We will all miss him

about 7 years ago

Teddy was one of the greatest singer of all time,we will really miss him,I'm going to close the door and turn off the lights and remember all the great songs of this great artis..."God bless you and your family.

about 7 years ago

In my opinion Teddy was the greatest voice ever, I place him above two of my favorites Al Green and Marvin Gaye,Marvin exploded in the late 1960's Al blew up in the early 1970's and Teddy turned the world upside down starting the late 1970's and beyond, RIP Teddy.

about 7 years ago

I remember the summer when the solo Teddy came out and we saw him in concert. Wonderful voice, great entertainer.

about 7 years ago

I so loved Teddy Pendergrass! What woman didn't, back in the day??? A lot of these obscene, profane male "singers" could take a hint from Teddy who looked so much better than any male singer today, who kept his music clean and free of nasty lyrics while capturing the upmost sensuality and sexuality that a male singer(other than Marvin Gaye) ever reached. It is so sad that Teddy is dead at 59, but at least he is made physically whole again by the Father. God bless you Teddy.

about 7 years ago

The world has lost another phenomenal talent. you were truly appreciated and will be sorely missed RIP.

over 7 years ago

we still love you teddy you have all the sexiest qualities that a man should have wish i could see you today! god bless you darling!

over 7 years ago

I was there back in the day when it all started. From the time of the Blue Notes and you going Teddy Pendergrass only. And the day of March 1982 I was hurt as you were. My whole body and soul was gone. I have watched you go across the stage time and time again live and in your vido.I let no one say a thing about you. They know me so well when it comes to you.I will always keep you close to my heart. I need to get a pair of your Teddy Jeans could you let me know where I can get them. I live in Baltimore,Md . I will go any where to get them. You are my teddybear (LOVE)

over 7 years ago

In that accident wasnt really Tinkia Watson It was DR Js wife. But they got here out of there and let Tinkia take the heat Just a little know fact from people who know people

over 7 years ago

I am 55 years old and I live in the Netherlands. I am a huge fan off Teddy's, not just because his wonderfull performance in his music but also as the person he is. He's just a great guy. I have a video with a intervieuw he gave in 2007 and I can't see it enough. I have bought all the cd's and a dvd. I admire his strength, his goals and motivation to do the good work besides his music. I love you Teddy, you are the greatest!!

almost 8 years ago

I have had to replace my CDs and Vinyl because they have been worn out! I Love you Teddy ! I just found a Picture Disc LP and have had it framed! My fellow Teddy Freaks you have got to get one of these off of EBAY. Just type in Teddy Pendergrass Picture Disc. I Love YOu Teddy Baby!

about 8 years ago

I'm 62 and absolutely still love listening to Teddy sing. I recall shopping for a pair of jeans called "Teddy". I think they were a line of clothing he designed or someone just capialized on his name. Anyway, I had to have those jeans. My last great love happened during the early '80's and my boyfriend recorded a special tape of his music for me. I still just melt at the sound of Teddy's voice. I love you Teddy.

about 8 years ago

Teddy, baby you just don't know the effect you have on us right now today. Even though you may have performed your golden hits back in the day, those hits are still going strong as if you just put them out yesterday. I got a chance to see you live in concert on dvd (1979)and I must say, "Damn, YOU ARE FINE!!!! I was telling my younger sister (she's 29 & I'm 37)as we were watching the dvd with our parents, that if I were around when you first came out, I would have had to have you. You definitely know how to work the crowd. I mean that concert was done in 1979 (I was only 8)and it made me feel like "OOOh, I'm in love with that sexiness". All I can say is you are truly a gift. There is no one today (not even Usher)who can top your style, swag & appeal. I feel as if our generation has been cheated. Teddy, I'm going to try and contact a BET representative to see how I can get them to pay tribute to you because you deserve all that and more. Because no one else has not even come close to what you have put down. I don't know why it has not been done already. I will be looking forward to seeing you on the stage receiving your award as well as singing with that smooth voice. Much love baby, you'll always be the best male vocalist of all times!!! See you in my continued dreams of you.

about 8 years ago

I am 47 years old and I really miss Teddy. I've been in Baltimore for 16 years and I can't remember him ever coming here but I hope he does....soon.I'll be the first in line!!We still love you Teddy!!!

about 8 years ago

I am 50 years old and I remember growin up listening to H.Melvin and the blue notes and Teddy Pendergrass, waiting anxiously for a new release, playing his tunes a million times, TP has been the soudtrack of my life when I was young , Talents like him don't come out very often...Watever he does he will always be in my heart... Fred.

about 8 years ago

I absolutely love Teddy Pendergrass. Always did. I first saw Teddy when he was singing with The Blue Notes at a club in Gary, Indiana. I was about 20 years old. Before they went onstage, Teddy mingled in the lounge connected to the club with patrons, I was sitting in a booth with one of my friends and he sat right down and introduced himself. Someone was playing the jukebox and Door to Your Heart came on by the Dramatics. He looked right in my face and began to sing that song like it was just for me. When it off he said, "I should have made that record". I will remember that until the day I die. My own personal concert with Teddy. About ten years later when he was at the height of his career I saw him at a huge venue in Merrillville, Indiana. All of the girls lined the hall to his room after the show. When he passed by he actually did a double take and said "don't I know you" and asked me and my girlfriend in for a drink. He was a perfect gentleman. He told us to come to a show the following week in Chicago, who to ask for and we could get in. We went, were took backstage after the show and he was as gracious as before. I just adore this man and wigh him and his loved ones the very best in life. I will always be prayerful for him. Teddy Pendergrass was the sexiest man alive and still is. What a fabulous voice.

about 8 years ago

I'm 38years old and a great fan sins my 10th year, I cried my heart out when heard about you're accident, but I knew you will make a come back. Since I could remember I had this desire to met you,i'm still waiting for the day you will come to do a concert in South Africa,or just visit,if I can just see you from a distance I will die in peace. My 11year old son know every song sung by you, his friend keep on telling him that he's old fashioned, and he tells them what do you know about R&B and the greatest "old school" performer, we watch your dvd, the one in concert in Los Angeles in your wheelchair once a week, with tears,joy and pride,he's as much in love with you as his mum. I love you Teddy, take care, hopefully we met someday.

over 8 years ago

Dude!!!!......I remember going to one of your concerts in New Orleans. That was the BEST concert I have ever attended. Much Love and Respect.

over 8 years ago

I've loved you since Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, I've enjoyed every record you made.I felt a great lose when I heard of your accident,but being a christian I knew you'd recover,because "we can do all things through Chris Jesus who strenthens us"!Keep the faith, still looking for your songs of love,inspiration,and hope......

over 8 years ago

he is the best singer in the all worlds I love you Teddy