Theodore “Teddy” Pendergrass (1950-2010)

Teddy Pendergrass, Washington D.C., October 3, 2000
© copyright John Mathew Smith 2001, Fair use image

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Musician Theodore DeReese Pendergrass, known popularly as Teddy Pendergrass, was born on March 26, 1950, to Ida Geraldine (Epps) and Jesse Pendergrass in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father left the family when Pendergrass was young and was killed in 1962. Pendergrass began singing at the age of two in his local church and was ordained a minister at the age of ten. He attended McIntyre Elementary, where he sang in the school choir, and Thomas Edison High School for Boys in North Philadelphia, where he sang with the Edison Mastersingers. Pendergrass also sang with the Philadelphia All City School Choir, and the Philadelphia Boys Choir. He taught himself how to play the drums at the age of thirteen and dropped out of school in the eleventh grade after being offered a job playing the drums in a local band called The Cadillacs. 

In 1970, Pendergrass was recruited to play the drums for the group, The Blue Notes. The following year, The Blue Notes lead singer quit and Pendergrass was promoted to lead singer. The group signed a contract with Philadelphia International Records in 1971 and released their first album with their first single bearing the same name – I Miss You in 1972, with Pendergrass singing the lead vocals. Over the next few years, the group released a steady stream of hit singles and albums, including “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “The Love I Lost,” and “Wake Up Everybody,” which reached platinum status after selling over one million copies worldwide. 

Pendergrass left the group in 1975 and started his solo career. He signed a contract with Philadelphia International Records in 1976 and released his self-titled album, Teddy Pendergrass, in 1977. The album included singles “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” and “The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me,” and quickly reached platinum status. Between 1977 and 1981, Pendergrass had five consecutive platinum (million-selling) albums; Life Is A Song Worth Singing (1978), Teddy (1979), TP (1980), and It’s Time For Love (1981). Pendergrass became a sex symbol and held “For Women Only” concerts. His mega stardom afforded him a mansion, several luxury cars, a private jet, his own jeans label, and a stable of horses. 

While driving home on the evening of March 18, 1982, Pendergrass was in a car accident that left him a tetraplegic, paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 31. During his recovery, Philadelphia International Records released two albums that included Pendergrass’ music, fulfilling his contract obligations. Although unable to walk again, Pendergrass returned to the studio under a new contract with Asylum Records, and released the album Love Language in 1984, which included the ballad “Hold Me” with then unknown singer, Whitney Houston. Pendergrass made a return to the stage at the 1985 Live Aid concert in Philadelphia with an emotional performance. 

Pendergrass went on to release an additional five albums, and made several videos of his songs, as well as appearances on TV and stage. He officially retired from the music business in 2006. He briefly returned in 2007 for a twenty-year award ceremony entitled Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities. After a long battle with colon cancer, Pendergrass died at the age of 59 on January 13, 2010, at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania. He was married to Karen Still (1987-2002) and Joan Williams (2008), and has children Tisha, Theodore Jr., and LaDonna.