Photo credits: Philadelphia International
Throughout American music history, many stars embarked on acrimonious splits from their bands or singing groups to pursue solo careers.
A genuine example of such a scenario transpired in the case of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes – a group of R&B performers and musicians with a catalog of hits, which spanned for decades. In the year 1954, the group was first assembled. The original members were Franklin Peaker, Bernard Wilson, Roosevelt Brodie, Jesse Gillis, Jr., and Harold Melvin. After a 16-year run, the classic R&B outfit found a young and talented new member.
The 20-year-old man with a distinguished baritone Melvin and his group discovered (who hailed from the group’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was named Theodore DeReese Pendergrass. Prior to catching the eyes and ears of Melvin and his hitmaking cohorts in 1970, Pendergrass sang lead for a local R&B group called The Cadillacs.
However, Pendergrass (who went by Teddy) was recruited after the group lost a member – who was not part of the original five-man squad. His name was John Atkins. He merged with Melvin and the Blue Notes during the 1960s. However, he bolted from the group in 1970. Pendergrass started off as a drummer for the singing group’s live band.
However, when it was clear that Atkins was gone for good, he went from drummer to lead singer. However, off-the-stage turbulence prevailed during the first several years. In 1972, the R&B group got a new recording deal. They signed with a major label called Philadelphia International – founded by the Gamble & Huff production team.
Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks were the roster members on the line-up of Philadelphia International’s 1972 contract. Parks abandoned the ship within the first year. Then Melvin recruited a new member named Jerry Cummings. Nonetheless, problems started to mount when the big money rolled in.
The first few years, which preceded Pendergrass’s mad dash from the group, were very successful. Songs landed on the mainstream pop charts. Gold and platinum plaques were earned. Sold-out concerts were customary. Music history’s accomplishments in the record books were surpassed and new records were set.
However, starting in 1975, off-stage madness related to money began boiling between Pendergrass and Melvin. According to a telling online report by Smooth Radio News, Melvin controlled the group’s finances exclusively. It did not matter to him that Pendergrass did most of the sweat equity. Even fans were confused over who was “the man.”
Smooth Radio’s report also mentioned a quote by Pendergrass in which he expressed dire frustration – due to fans calling him by Harold Melvin’s name instead of his own. There were also contentious personality clashes between the group’s members. Fed up with Melvin’s inflexible nature, Pendergrass left the group in 1976.
The fledgling superstar immediately went to work – on his self-titled debut album as a solo artist. Pendergrass was able to contractually bypass Melvin, get his own exclusive deal with Philadelphia International, and book arrangements at Sigma Sound Studios. By April 15, 1977, Pendergrass released his album’s lead single titled, “I Don’t Love You Anymore.” On June 12, 1977, the future R&B Hall of Famer’s first-ever solo album hit the shelves.
Pendergrass’s self-titled debut solidly performed in the sales category – even though its first single did not earn a spot on the music charts. It landed in the Top 20 (number 17) on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. After three more singles were off the Teddy Pendergrass album, things began to take off for the then 27-year-old phenom.
According to The New York Times, his solo project was eventually certified platinum. Pendergrass’s LP went on to sell well over a million physical records. However, that was only the tip of the iceberg. The so-called “Baritone of Seduction” created a solo project that remained popular for decades after its initial release.
Hip-hop and R&B acts of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (such as soul singer D’Angelo and California rap pioneer The D.O.C.) released hits in their time, which sampled the Teddy Pendergrass album’s musical elements.
This proves the high level of influence a music legend from the past eventually had on Black music’s future creators.