Kevin Winter, Getty Images Bad news rap fans, Chris Brown has announced that…
- Posted on Aug 13th 2010 4:30PM by James Sullivan
Michael Putland, Getty Images
But one of his biggest hits as featured singer with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes was the early disco smash 'Bad Luck.' Within a few years of going solo, the Philadelphia native ran into some bad luck of his own that would deeply affect the rest of his life.
After getting his start as a drummer with a group called the Cadillacs, Pendergrass was invited in 1970 to join Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. That group had started back in the early 1950s -- when Pendergrass was a toddler -- singing doo-wop as the Charlemagnes.
The young newcomer was soon made the Blue Notes' featured singer, adding a raspy, testifying style to the group's smooth-soul sound. Signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International label, the Blues Notes soon kicked off a series of lushly orchestrated US Top 20 hits, including 'If You Don't Know Me By Now,' 'The Love I Lost' and the socially conscious 'Wake Up Everybody.' They also recorded the original version of 'Don't Leave Me This Way,' later a huge hit for Thelma Houston.
Despite their success, Melvin, the bandleader, was said to be an aloof and uncompromising leader, withholding royalties and staying in nicer hotels than the rest of the group. When Pendergrass suggested the band change its name to Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes, the two men had a falling out. Within months, he was recording under his own name. During the next several years, he placed more than a dozen songs at or near the top of the US R&B chart.
He was riding high, introducing a then-unknown named Whitney Houston and having a fling with Marvin Gaye's ex-wife, among many others. He bought an imposing house he'd coveted since he was a kid walking to school. But in March 1982, a decade of good times came to an abrupt halt behind the wheel of a car.
Two cars, actually. A week after crashing his Maserati, Pendergrass was driving home in his green Rolls-Royce when the car careened across a median and smashed into two trees. It took an hour or more to pull the singer from the wreckage. He was paralyzed from the chest down.
Reports quickly noted that an acquaintance, a woman named Tenika Watson, was also in the car. Watson, a model and nightclub performer, turned out to be a transgender female who had been working the streets for some time. Rumors flew about what the two may had been doing in the car at the time of the crash.
"It's hard to change your life around here," Watson told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter.
Pendergrass would remain paralyzed, with limited use of his arms, for the rest of his life. After initially struggling with his will to live, he gradually came to accept his condition. If it took him a half-hour to open a jar of peanuts, he once told People magazine, he'd make a point to "enjoy every single chew."
He made a brief, high-profile appearance in 1985, performing with Ashford and Simpson at Live Aid, and he published an autobiography called 'Truly Blessed' in 1992. Though he continued to record music, Pendergrass stayed away from the stage until 2001, when he made a celebrated comeback in Atlantic City.
Pendergrass' old boss, Harold Melvin, died of complications from a stroke in 1997. Teddy Pendergrass died in January 2010, age 59, after suffering from colon cancer.
Tenika Watson, by last account, was still living in the Philadelphia area.