Theodore DeReese "Teddy" Pendergrass (March 26, 1950 – January 13, 2010) was an American R&B/soul singer and songwriter. Pendergrass first rose to fame as lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in the 1970s before a successful solo career at the end of the decade. In 1982, he was severely injured in an auto accident in Philadelphia, resulting in his being paralyzed from the waist down. After his injury, the affable entertainer founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, a foundation that helps those with spinal cord injuries. Pendergrass commemorated 25 years of living after his spinal cord injury with star filled event, Teddy 25 - A Celebration of Life at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center. His last performance was on a PBS special at Atlantic City's Borgata Casino in November 2008.
Pendergrass was born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of Jesse Pendergrass and Ida Geraldine Epps. When Pendergrass was still very young, his father left the family; Jesse Pendergrass was murdered when Teddy was 12. Pendergrass grew up in a local Philadelphia slum and sung often at church. Pendergrass once dreamed of being a pastor and got his wish when at ten he was ordained as a minister according to author Robert Ewell Greene. He also took up drums during this time and was a junior deacon of his church. Pendergrass attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys in North Philadelphia (now closed). He sang with the Edison Mastersingers. Subsequently, he dropped out in the eleventh grade to enter the music business recording his first song "Angel With Muddy Feet". The song went nowhere. Pendergrass became a drummer for local Philadelphia groups. Eventually he landed a drumming gig for the group, The Cadillacs. In 1970, the singer was spotted by Blue Notes founder Harold Melvin (1939–1997) and immediately convinced Pendergrass to play drums in his group. However, during a performance, Pendergrass began singing along after coming from the back of the stage jumping off its rear and Melvin immediately changed his mind on Pendergrass making him the lead singer of the group. By the time Pendergrass had joined the group, the Blue Notes had struggled to find success. That all changed when after a successful audition, they landed a recording deal with Philadelphia International Records, in 1971, thus beginning Pendergrass' successful collaboration with label founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
In 1972, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes released their first single, a slow, solemn ballad titled "I Miss You". The song was originally written for The Dells but the group passed on the song and noting how Pendergrass sounded like Dells lead singer Marvin Junior, Kenny Gamble decided to build the song with Pendergrass, then only 21 at the time of the recording of the song, singing much of the song in a raspy baritone wail that became his trademark. The song also featured Bluenotes member Lloyd Parks singing falsetto in the background and spotlighted Harold Melvin adding in a rap near the end of the song as Pendergrass kept singing, feigning tears. The song, one of Gamble and Huff's most creative productions, became a major rhythm and blues hit and put the Blue Notes on the map.