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Remembering Soul Legend Teddy Pendergrass

The tragic loss of Teddy Pendergrass is one that will leave a hole in the hearts of music fans for years to come, yet luckily for the soul singer’s fans (both old and new) his legacy and classic recordings are sure to far outlast his 59 years on this planet. Long before Auto-Tune king T-Pain spun the singer’s moniker and coined himself “Teddy Pendherass Down,” the original item made his lasting mark on everyone who uses music as a tool of seduction, paving the way for lady-killing vocalists like Freddy Jackson and Luther Vandross.

The Philly soulman started his career in the ’70s as a drummer for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, before his undeniable stage presence and knack for throwing unmatched emotion into his performances prompted the group’s founder Harold Melvin to promote him to lead singer. Pendergrass guided the group rise to fame as the silky baritone voice anchoring hits including ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ and ‘Wake Up Everybody.’

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Teddy Pendergrass in Pictures
Look back on the life of the soul legend with 10 memorable photographs.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Koji Sasahara, AP

Remembering Teddy Pendergrass

“Teddy 25″ – A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities
Pattii LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass and Mo’Nique
10 Jun 2007

Monica Morgan, WireImage

August 1972: A formal portrait of soul group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass at the far left.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment / Getty Images

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Teddy Pendergrass

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

1977, New York City, New York, USA — Michael Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass backstage at madison square garden.

Bill Pierce, Jr., Corbis

UNSPECIFIED – SEPTEMBER 04: Photo of Teddy Pendergrass.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

ca. April 1984 — Singer Teddy Pendergrass in the hospital after being paralyzed from a car accident.

Neal Preston, Corbis

Teddy Pendergrass in the recording studio in Philadelphia, 1984.

Scott Weiner, Retna

In a January 25, 1986 file photo provided by ABC-TV Dick Clark, executive producer of the “American Music Award” telecast, right, goes over production notes with singer Teddy Pendergrass during rehearsal at the Shirne Auditorium in Los Angeles. Pendergrass made his first solo appearance since his near fatal auto accident on the show. Pendergrass died Wednesday Jan. 13, 2010 at age 59.

ABC / AP

Teddy Pendergrass performing at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, Tuesday, August 15, 2001.

Robert Spencer, Retna

Teddy Pendergrass pictured with his wife at the The Second Annual Radio One Music and Entertainment Conference at the Philadelphia Marriott on March 15, 2009.

Scott Weiner, Retna

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By the late 1970s, Pendergrass’ star continued to rise as he released his self-titled solo debut in 1977. Gaining increased notice beyond soul fans and into the pop world, Pendergrass’ music became known for its hypermasculine allure, and he went on to release ‘Life Is a Song Worth Singing’ one year later, spawning the mega-hits ‘Close the Door’ and ‘When Somebody Loves You Back.’ But it wasn’t until 1979 and the release of ‘Turn Off the Lights’ that the Philadelphia crooner took the throne as the king of “baby-making music,” solidifying his status as one of music most prolific and influential performers. His velvety voice held a refreshing hint of aggression, making for a perfect concoction of passionate music.

Teddy Sings ‘When Somebody Loves You Back’ (1979)

In 1982, Pendergrass’ life took an unexpected and tragic turn when a car accident changed his life forever. While driving with an acquaintance, the brakes failed on his 1981 Rolls-Royce, causing him to swerve into oncoming traffic before hitting two trees. He was trapped in the vehicle for almost an hour and was left paralyzed from the waist down. While still in recovery, his label, Philadelphia International Records, released ‘This One’s for You.’ Undaunted by circumstances that may have caused others to shy away from the spotlight, Pendergrass, now using a wheelchair, proved his resilience by continuing to release albums and performing.

Over 20 years later, Pendergrass announced his retirement from the music industry and went into solitude. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007 and, after a long battle with the disease, passed away on January 13, 2010. Were it not for his unique ability to bring music to life with a sultry sophistication, what we know currently as R&B music would not exist in the form it does today. Pendergrass was a pioneer, and though his life has ended, the mark he has left on anyone who sings or listens to songs of love will not soon be forgotten.

Teddy Performs at the Apollo Hall of Fame Concert (1993)

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