Teddy Pendergrass and Philly Soul 2/8/10
It is with sadness that I read about the death of Teddy Pendergrass last month. Teddy died in Bryn Mawr Hospital in the Philadelphia area on Jan 13.
I doubt if anyone has ever sung in a sexier, more passionate way than Teddy on “Close the Door”. To this day, that song still knocks me out.
I remember when Teddy’s album “Life is a Song Worth Singing” came out in 1978. I ran out, bought it, and listened to it about a thousand times. Even before that, when Teddy sang with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the music was amazing and affirmative. “Wake Up Everybody” could have been a counter national anthem.
I just want to mention some of the other Philly sound artists from that era who I loved. The Spinners, Deniece Williams, and the O’Jays were right up there. I think of Lou Rawls singing, “See You When I Get There”. Wow!
I guess I always have been partisan to soul, R&B, and blues. Growing up in the Philly area, I think the first two albums I ever owned were the Temptations Greatest Hits and the Four Tops Greatest Hits. Soul music got me. Honestly, whether it was Philly soul or Motown, I loved it.
Thinking back on that era, this was also the time of Frank Rizzo, the now deceased former Mayor and Police Commissioner of Philadelphia. Rizzo was a character from the dark side. The awful image that stands out to me is the photo of Rizzo’s police lining up naked Black Panthers after a police raid. I recall the photo running in the Philadelphia papers.
There were many raids across the country on Black Panther headquarters. Only a fool would think that was an accident. The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were out to get the Panthers. I would not be surprised to learn the Philadelphia raid was a Cointelpro operation. Of course, it could have been solely Rizzo and his department doing their thing.
Rizzo’s signature photo was the famous shot of him wearing a tuxedo with a billyclub sticking through his cummerbund.
My sister Lisa was active in the Stop Rizzo movement of the 70’s. I had left Philly by then. Last time I was in South Philly last year I was surprised to see a huge Frank Rizzo wall portrait on the back of a building. It is pitiful that Rizzo would be considered a symbol of ethnic pride.
The Philadelphia sound was the other side of the coin from the ugliness represented by Frank Rizzo. The sound was galvanizing, sexy and life-affirming. Not too long ago I heard the songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Gamble and Huff were the architects of the Philly sound. All I can say is that I think those guys were geniuses.
I will miss Teddy but fortunately the music will live on.