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Soul legend Teddy Pendergrass dead at 59

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

He brought men to their feet and women to their knees. For his generation, “The Love I Lost,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Bad Luck” still hook the mind’s ear, thanks to the gruff but tender vocals of Teddy Pendergrass, who died of colon cancer yesterday near the place where he helped make Philadelphia an integral part of American musical history.

TP at “Live Aid ’85”

Pendergrass led Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes before launching a solo career as a seductive soul singer — despite a 1982 crash in his Rolls-Royce that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Teddy Pendergrass II said his father died at Bryn Mawr Hospital, at 59 years old, after a “difficult recovery” from colon cancer surgery eight months ago.

It was a difficult picture, considering the virility and vitality of the man who had Barry White’s act down pat before the also-late lady’s man even had an act.

Pendergrass was the first black male singer to record five consecutive multi-platinum albums — as well as being the first to get women to throw their panties on the stage.

Born March 26, 1950, he was raised in North Philadelphia and began singing in public before he was 3, standing on a chair at a Baptist church and belting out “If I Could Write A Letter To Heaven.”

“I was just a little bitty guy,” Pendergrass once said in an interview. “I had to be seen. Always been my problem.”

Like the Trammps and others of their style, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes seamlessly spun their soul into disco. Up front was an aggressive, masculine voice that could improvise the bark-like outro to “Bad Luck” but immediately come back with the tender soul of “Wake Up Everybody.”

“Wake Up Everybody”
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“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
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Yet while many of his generation were left to hook onto the eventual disco-revival shows, Pendergrass kept moving forward.

In 1998, he founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, dedicated to encouraging and helping people with spinal cord injuries overcome disability to contribute to society.

It came back to Pendergrass big time, partly through the June 2007 tribute “Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope and Possibilities,” featuring, among others, Patti LaBelle and Stephanie Mills, to mark a quarter-century since the crash.

Many will recall his emotional return to the stage in 1985 for Live Aid in Philadelphia, where he sang from his wheelchair: “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand. Make this world a better place if you can….”

“Reach Out and Touch”

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