Teddy Pendergrass was the soundtrack for seduction for young people of color from the late 70s and through most of the 80s. Stevie Wonder was more prolific and versatile, Rick James most assuredly had more funk, Bill Whithers was more lyrically gifted, but there was no man with a sweeter baritone than Teddy P – as he was affectionately known then. Some of you may be protesting “But, Refugee, what about Barry White?” I am not going to dis Barry White and all of the grooves that he laid down during that period but the two were so different. Barry White was over the top, post-ironic (before there was an irony movement,) dripping in conspicuous effort and saccharine. Teddy P was just a cool, what-are-you-doing-later, don’t-you-want-to-dance-with-me kinda hip all wrapped in a cashmere soft baritone that always seemed to be whispering.
In 1982, he suffered a traumatic spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. After rehab, he continued to record music but never approached the dizzying heights of the earlier part of his career. He died yesterday – complications from colon cancer. His legacy will live in the voices of so many singers who have paid tribute to him and in a permanent spot on my playlist when I am feeling wistful, hopeful, or when my spirits are running free.