Arts & entertainment

Sexy Teddy Pendergrass - romantic, not explicit

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 2:46 p.m.

It was once told of Levi Stubbs - the late, great lead vocalist for the Four Tops - that he sang like his lungs were on fire. The same could be said of Teddy Pendergrass, whose soulful, swaggering baritone possessed a similar gospel-fueled intensity.

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Singer Teddy Pendergrass was a Philadelphia soul singer whose husky, potent baritone became one definition of R&B seduction in the 1970s.

The New York Times

But Pendergrass - who died last Wednesday from colon cancer at the age of 59 - was always about more than sheer raise-the-roof vocal power. He seasoned it with a rugged romanticism, sly sensuality and tender masculinity that set him apart from so much of his R&B competition during his '70s heyday. It was no accident that his nickname was not something majestic like the Godfather of Soul or King of Pop but Teddy Bear.

His hits with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - the sweeping "The Love I Lost," the plaintive "Wake Up, Everybody," or the absolutely ecstatic "Bad Luck" (a tale of almost biblical woe whose full-length version is a thing of gorgeously bombastic beauty) - not only helped put the strings-saturated dance sound of the Philadelphia International label on the map but made liars out of those who claimed all disco was just soulless clutter.

In his solo career, Pendergrass was more of a balladeer, turning out such candle-lit-dinner hits as "Love T.K.O." and "Close the Door."

By the time of his life-altering 1982 car accident, which left the 31-year-old paralyzed, Pendergrass had graduated to the level of major sex symbol, staging "ladies only" concerts and becoming the object of frenzied female adoration.

But, unlike so many of those who hold that title today, Pendergrass never resorted to the tawdry or the taboo solely for the sake of shock. He subscribed to the theory that the erotically explicit wasn't nearly as romantic as the seductively illicit.

Pendergrass continued to record well after his accident - a live album, Valentine's Day Concert, from a 2002 show was released last year - as well as to become involved in charities that work with those suffering spinal-cord injuries.

A funeral for Pendergrass will take place on Saturday. A public viewing is scheduled for Friday at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia.

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