Thursday, January 14, 2010

R.I.P, Teddy Pendergrass

I believe in starting off each day with an energetic chuckle. That’s why I was heartened this morning when my esteemed blogging colleague Tom “I’ve seen more movies than you’ve had hot dinners” Sutpen made a reference on Facebook to an old Richard Pryor routine (The Wino and the Junkie) that gave me a good case of the giggles.

But then karma kicked in. I learned of the passing of the legendary R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, who’s shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 59. What a truly sad thing to happen to an immensely talented performer whose existence here on the corporeal plain brought him equal parts fame…and tragedy.

Pendergrass’ musical career began with the Cadillacs; he played drums for the group until they merged with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes—whose titled leader made Teddy the aggregation’s lead singer after Pendergrass jumped from the rear of the stage during one performance and began singing his heart out. The Blue Notes, who began charting songs in 1972 on the CBS subsidiary Philadelphia International Records (under the supervision of the equally legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff), racked up an impressive number of hits that included Bad Luck and Wake Up Everybody—culminating in the two-million selling classic If You Don’t Know Me By Now. But personality conflicts between Pendergrass and Melvin soon erupted, and Teddy left the group in 1977 for a solo career, soon spawning Top 40 hits like Close the Door and Two Hearts (a duet with Stephanie Mills).

In March 1982, Pendergrass was driving around in the Germantown section of Philadelphia when the brakes failed on his Rolls Royce, causing him to slam into a tree. A passenger with Pendergrass emerged from the wreckage relatively unscathed, but Teddy suffered a severe spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from the waist down. Undergoing physical therapy, he returned to the music scene in 1984 and continued his R&B chart success, including a duet with a then-unknown Whitney Houston, Hold Me. He would later perform at the historic Live Aid concert in Philadelphia in 1985, and make a noise on stage alongside his former duet partner Mills in a touring version of the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. He officially retired in 2000, returning only for a concert in 2007 entitled Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities which raised money for his charity, The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance.

R.I.P, Mr. Pendergrass. You will be missed…particularly if I hear If You Don’t Know Me By Now on a jukebox near me.

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