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Soul Singer Pendergrass, Dead, 59

Hannah Ross | 1/27/2010, 11:46 a.m.




(Click to see the program from his funeral)


Soul singer Teddy Pendergrass, who encouraged his female fans to €Turn off the Lights€, died, Wed., Jan. 13 from colon cancer at Bryn Mawr Hospital in suburban Philadelphia.

The balladeer was born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass in Kingstree, S.C., to Jesse Pendergrass and Ida Geraldine Epps. Following his father€s death in 1962, his mother moved to Philadelphia, where Pendergrass attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys. From his early childhood, he exhibited a love of music and often sang with both his church choir and school groups, including The Edison Mastersingers.

After quitting school in the 11th grade, Pendergrass started to play drums for a group called The Cadillacs, later to become Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Within months, the group signed with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff through the Philadelphia subsidiary of CBS Records, known as The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP).

McKinley Horton, a musician with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, told reporters outside of the funeral services for Pendergrass that he was the first Black male entertainer to embrace raw sexuality on stage.

€He presented a certain kind of black manhood, with his dark beard and his big smile, that helped send out a strong R&B message,€ Horton said.

With the Blue Notes, Pendergrass had hits that included, €If You Don't Know Me by Now€, €I Miss You€, €Bad Luck€, and €Wake Up Everybody.€ Pendergrass would leave the group and embark on a solo career in 1976, following disputes with group members. From his 1977 debut solo effort, Pendergrass enjoyed multi-million dollar sales with €Turn Off the Lights€, €Come Go with Me€, €Shout and Scream€, €It's You I Love,€ and €Can't We Try.€ In 1981, he followed that success with the album release, It€s Time for Love, which included the hit singles €Love TKO€ and €I Can't Live Without Your Love.€

Success for Pendergrass was temporarily interrupted by a near-fatal car accident in the Philadelphia suburbs known as Germantown. According to published reports, the brakes on Pendergrass€ 1981 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit failed, 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 that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Pendergrass, however, continued to perform. He experienced moderate success after the accident with songs that included, €After Workin' It Back€ (1985), and €Joy€ (1988).

More than 4,000 mourners and fans attended his funeral service at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Pendergrass is survived by his wife, Joan, his son, Teddy Pendergrass II and two daughters.