Teddy Pendergrass: R&B Icon, Sex Symbol

Dead at 59, the '70s legend is remembered as a black icon and a ladies' man

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Teddy Pendergrass, a leading R&B pop singer of the 70s, died Wednesday of colon cancer. A sex symbol of his era, the velvety-voiced soul singer rose to fame as leader of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Pendergrass staged "Ladies Only' concerts and cranked out mega-hits like "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "You Can't Hide From Yourself" and "The More I Get the More I Want." In 1982, he was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident when his brakes failed. He became a source of inspiration when, despite his disability, he mounted a comeback in 1985 singing the duet "Hold Me" with Whitney Houston. Here's what admirers are saying of him:

  • A Pioneering Black Pop Star, writes Veronica Schmidt at the Times of London: "The singer's upward trajectory continued through the Seventies and he became the first black male singer to record five consecutive platinum-selling albums." Paul Lester adds, "Uptempo numbers such as The Love I Lost, Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back), Don't Leave Me This Way, Where Are All My Friends and Bad Luck... established him as a major force on both sides of the Atlantic."
  • The Lady's Choice, writes Chuck Miller at the Times Union: "I don't think there was a single girl at my high school, Street Academy of Albany, that didn't have at least one TP album in their record collections, and I suspect every girl tried to go to one of Teddy's 'Ladies Only' concerts if they were held at the Palace Theater or at the Falcons' Nest."
  • Had Humble, Gospel Roots, writes Philadelphia Enquirer music critic Dan DeLuca: "Pendergrass was raised by his mother, Ida Epps, in North Philadelphia, and started singing in public at an early age. At age 21/2, he recalled in an interview in 2007 that he stood up on chair at the Glad Tidings Baptist Church and sang 'If I Could Write A Letter To Heaven.' 'I was just a little bitty guy,' he said. 'I had to be seen. Always been my problem.'"
  • Made a Tenacious Recovery, writes Zennie Abraham at the San Francisco Chronicle: "He was wheelchair-bound and angry, but fought back with the help of his wife Karen and his family. He went on to make other songs, and was nominated for a Grammy for Voodoo in 1993.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.