This morning’s news that Teddy Pendergrass has passed on comes just months after we first started to discover his silky genius. For years, we considered Teddy Bear the epitome of old-person music, and rarely listened to the records of his that we’d somehow accumulated over the years. (When you’re a vinyl geek, you have a way of accruing random albums—often because you volunteer to take throwaways off folks’ hands.) But then back in October we heard Big Boi’s “Shine Blockas”, which uses a sped-up sample of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “I Miss You” (above) as its sonic essence. We were stunned to discover that Pendergrass did lead vocals on that tune, and we’ve since been diving into mid-to-late-’70s heyday. Perhaps it’s because we’re becoming old-tymers ourselves, but that voice of his has now wormed itself into corners of our heart that we’re previously closed to crooners of his ilk.
In reading the New York Times obit, we were struck by Teddy Bear’s philosophical approach to the physical challenges he faced over the past three decades:
Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia in 1950, suffered a spinal cord injury in a 1982 car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down — still able to sing but without his signature power. The image of the strong, virile lover was replaced with one that drew sympathy.
But instead of becoming bitter or depressed, Pendergrass created a new identity — that as a role model, friend and longtime collaborator Kenny Gamble said.
”He never showed me that he was angry at all about his accident,” Gamble said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ”In fact, he was very courageous…He used to say something in his act in the wheelchair, ‘Don’t let the wheelchair fool you,’ because he still proclaimed he was a lover.”
As always, we are humbled by reading about people with the mental fortitude to move past the cataclysmic. The fact that Pendergrass was able to do so and make some killer music along the way speaks volumes about his greatness. He’ll be missed.