Good Night Sweet Prince

A Remembrance Of Teddy Pendergast

The Sweetest Soul Singer Ever!

There is no telling how many people walking the earth today owe their existence to Teddy Pendergast, including my own twins Makeda and Samori. Annette John-Hall, a black female columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, reveals in a January 24 column “Plenty of women will tell you their children were conceived to Teddy’s boudoir ballads – ‘Close The Door…Love TKO.’” Then Miss John-Hall goes on to tell give us a glimpse of the effect Teddy’s singing had on the ladies who enthusiastically listened to him: “But truthfully, Teddy could have sung the phone book and sold millions of records, that’s the kind raw, full-throttle sex appeal he had…such was the intimate power of his music.”  t

This does much to explain the magic moments I enjoyed with the ladies listening to Teddy’s records.  For my money Teddy was the greatest singer of love songs that the gods ever blew the breath of life in.  Just as Zora Neale Hurston, that great student and interpreter of Afro-American culture, once observed that a black preacher “must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit;” a black singer of love songs must sound like a poet who’s really in love to woo and win a black audience.  And Black women of a certain vintage, wise dusky earth mothers that they are, have very demanding standards; a dude’s got to know how to beg with style alas.  Although great black singers of love songs are legion, nobody ever did it better than Teddy.

As a fellow Philadelphia I had many opportunities to view Teddy from his earliest performances; long before he captured the attention of the world with his thrilling baritone voice – an extension of the style introduced by the lead singer of the Dells, in the same way that Michael Jordon was an extension of the art of Julius “Dr. J” Irving on the b-ball court.  From jump street Teddy’s raspy rough edge sound radiated a sensuality that was more than mere animal desire. Although the chemical reactions and electric sparks that his crooning ignites between males and females often fills the listener full of fluid and make them wanna do it, creating an urge to merge not unlike the heat sizzling between the beast in the fields – Teddy’s sound is the epitome of true romance.  It is grown folks music; reaching deep down to a level of emotional gratification that can be only achieved in true romance between mature adults….or an intense religious experience.

I can still remember the day I took a lady of mine to see Teddy at the world famous Apollo theater when he was the lead singer with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  It was right after they had a big hit, and the theater was packed.  This was during that halcyon age in Afro-American culture before the removal of music programs that provided the opportunity for black youths to participate in the joyous art of choral singing, back before the hard edge truth telling of hip hop replaced the transcendent sermons of the church for increasing numbers of alienated youths, who had lost both faith and hope in the nihilistic milieu of the post industrial city, alienating them from the source of all great African America music: the black church.  But Teddy was very much a child of the church, and it’s deep spiritual power informed  the way Teddy sang his  songs.

The memories that stands out most  from that Apollo concert was first of all the magical effect his performance had on the women in the audience.  My date was a very reserved you southern lady who had impeccable manners and  two Doctorate degrees.  But as Teddy began to croon his tune in that special way in which he seemed to be singing to every woman in the room personally, Doctor Doctor completely lost her cool right along with her unlettered sistas from round the way!

I was astonished at Teddy’s gift for achieving a sense of intimacy in a crowded room, it was the closest thing to real magic I have ever seen in a performance – and I have been around the world and spoke to everybody twice, spending a thousand and one nights in the theaters and music halls.   I knew two things at that moment: Teddy was to big to remain merely the featured singer with Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes for long.

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See Teddy Live!

 

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 4, 2010