In the world of soul music, the ideal of “the great love man” has been missing from the scene for years. Not to say that the current crop including The Weeknd and Miguel don’t have their own brand of sexiness, but it doesn’t compare to the chicken ’n’ grits masculinity of the now gone Marvin Gaye, Barry White or Teddy Pendergrass.
Formerly a member of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes before becoming a premier love man in the 1970s with hits such as “Close the Door” and “Love TKO,” Pendergrass was known for having a commanding voice and presence that women found hypnotic on record, on-stage and in their sexual fantasies. Indeed, his “Ladies Only” concerts in the disco decade are still talked about more than three decades later.
Never a “normal” guy even when he was a no-name drummer trying to get on, Pendergrass’s storied life included a rise from Philadelphia poverty to becoming one of the richest music men of his time before a crazy car accident left him paralyzed in 1982. Although others artists would’ve retreated to the shadows, hiding away from judgmental fans, the ever-proud Pendergrass continued to perform and record until his last days in 2010, and his baritone-singing legacy is still quiet storm strong in the Black community.
With Duets—Love & Soul, recently released on Cleopatra Records (which recorded Teddy’s tracks in the early 2000s), fans get to revisit what made him wonderful. The project features various Pendergrass hits originally made for the legendary Philadelphia International Records. While updating those Gamble & Huff written and produced classic sides could’ve been a cheesy affair, Cleopatra brought together a stellar roster of singers and musicians—including Angie Stone (“Love TKO”), Rose Royce (“And If I Had”), Jody Watley (“I Can’t Live Without Your Love”) and Shugie Otis (“It Don’t Hurt Now”). Not only does each performer respect the legacy, but they also contribute their own specialness and standout performances to the project.
Pendergrass, who passed away when he was only 59, left a wealth of musical history behind. And Duets—Love & Soul by no means diminishes the legacy of the last great love man.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also a columnist for soulhead.com. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.