Teddy Pendergrass Biography

A biography of the late, great R&B crooner

Teddy Pendergrass
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Theodore DeReese "Teddy" Pendergrass was born in Kingstree, S.C., on March 26, 1950. His family moved to Philadelphia while he was still an infant. Growing up in North Philadelphia, Pendergrass became interested in gospel and soul music. He performed with the citywide McIntyre Elementary School Choir and the All-City Stetson Junior High School Choir. As a teenager he'd attend R&B performances at the Uptown Theater which sparked his interest in the genre. His mother gave him a drum set and he taught himself how to play them.

The Blue Notes:

He dropped out of high school to pursue music full-time. He was playing drums for The Cadillacs when Harold Melvin, founder of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, convinced him to join his group. While the Blue Notes were messing around in rehearsal before a recording session, his bandmates heard Pendergrass singing along and his rich, baritone voice impressed them so much he moved to lead vocals.

The Blue Notes signed with Philadelphia International Records in 1971. They released the hit songs "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "The Love I Lost," "Bad Luck" and "Wake Up Everybody." Even though Pendergrass was singing lead vocals, which ultimately helped the group achieve recognition, they were still called Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. In 1975 when Melvin refused his request to change their name to Teddy Pendergrass & The Blue Notes, he left the group.

Early Solo Career:

Pendergrass' first solo effort, a self-titled album, was released in 1977 and sold more than a million copies. His huge appeal to women of all races led to a tour in which he played to all-female audiences. 1978's Life Is a Song Worth Singing and 1979's Teddy were similar successes, and Pendergrass was dubbed "the Black Elvis." Between 1977 and 1981 he had released four consecutive platinum albums, and by 1982 he was the top male R&B performer of his time.

Car Accident:

On March 18, 1982, when Pendergrass was at the height of his career, he was involved in a devastating car accident on Philadelphia's Lincoln Drive. He lost control of his Rolls Royce and hit a guard rail and two trees. Pendergrass and his passenger were rescued from the wreckage, but his spinal cord was injured and resulted in him being paralyzed from the chest down at 31.

Late Career:

Pendergrass' label released This One's for You in 1982 and Heaven Only Knows in 1983, both of which include music he recorded before the accident. After a few years of extensive physical therapy Pendergrass, returned to the studio and issued Love Language in 1984. It went gold and includes an appearance by then-newcomer Whitney Houston in the song "Hold Me."

He continued to perform and record, and in 1988 he landed his first No. 1 R&B hit in nearly ten years with "Joy," a song in the new jack swing style that was popular at the time. Pendergrass recorded throughout the '90s. In 2000 he sang the song "Wake Up Everybody" at the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia.

He officially announced his retirement in 2006. Pendergrass was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery in 2009 to eradicate it, but it was unsuccessful. He suffered complications for several months following the surgery and died from respiratory failure on January 13, 2010 while hospitalized at Bryn Mawr Hospital outside of Philadelphia. He was 59.


Following the accent, Pendergrass became an advocate for those with spinal cord injuries. He founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance in 1998. The nonprofit organization eventually partnered with the National Spinal Cord Injury Association to provide support for those with spinal cord injuries.

Pendergrass continues to inspire musicians. His soulful, sultry, romantic style inspired young R&B heartthrobs like Gerald Levert and Maxwell, and his music has been sampled by contemporary hip-hop artists like Kanye West and Ghostface Killah.

Popular Songs:

  • "Love T.K.O."
  • "Close the Door" 
  • "Turn Off the Lights" 
  • "Come Go With Me" 
  • "When Somebody Loves You Back"
  • "You're My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration" 

Recommended Albums:

  • The Essential Teddy Pendergrass (2007)
  • Life Is a Song Worth Singing (1978)
  • Teddy Pendergrass (1977)
  • Teddy (1979)
  • Love Language (1984)