Theodore "Teddy" DeReese Pendergrass was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, and got his start singing gospel in the church. By the mid-1960s, he was in a teen vocal group called the Cadillacs playing drums. When some of the members of the Cadillacs moved over to a more established R&B group called Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Pendergrass went as well. The group already had a drummer but Melvin realized Pendergrass was a great singer, and when asked if he wanted to be the group's lead vocalist, he accepted. The group reemerged with a new lineup and a powerful R&B sound.
At the same time, the landmark R&B songwriting/production teams of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had been looking for a strong vocalist to sign to their new Philadelphia International label and sing original songs. When they heard a demo of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes with Pendergrass on vocals, they signed the group immediately. What followed was a series of R&B classics and albums beginning in 1972 that included tracks like "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "Love I Lost," "Bad Luck" and "Wake Up Everybody (Pt. 1)," which went to #1 on the US R&B chart in early 1976.
But with all the recognition going to Harold Melvin, Pendergrass rebelled and in 1976 left to form his own version of the Blue Notes. With both acts using the name, confusion followed, as did a cease and desist order against Pendergrass. Rather than mount a legal fight, he opted to merely stay with Gamble and Huff on Philly International as simply Teddy Pendergrass.
Between 1977 and 1982, he released five solo albums (all of which went gold and/or platinum) and had a number of solo hits including, "I Don't Love You Anymore," "You Can't Hide From Yourself," "Turn Off the Lights," "Come Go With Me" and "Love TKO." He was about to audition for the lead role in a biopic about Otis Redding when a car accident sidelined him in 1982. He returned to recording in 1984. Pendergrass continues to perform, but only on rare occasions, because of the physical strain it puts on him. He also wrote an autobiography and appeared in the play Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God.