Like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass was among the greatest male soul singers of the 20th century. We first noticed Teddy's talent while we were rehearsing Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. One day in the early 1970s, Teddy, the group's drummer, was asked to sing, and this great, powerful voice came out of this tall, thin guy. He had one of the most flexible voices we had ever heard.
Despite the group's string of successes, we made the easy choice to launch Teddy's solo career. With hits like "Close the Door," "Turn Off the Lights" and "I Don't Love You Anymore," he skyrocketed to superstardom, earning five Grammy nominations for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and pioneering concerts for women-only audiences in the process.
Teddy, who died Jan. 13 at 59, came from a spiritual family in North Philadelphia, and after a tragic automobile accident in 1982 left him paralyzed from the chest down, the faith he'd inherited from his mother Ida helped sustain him. Despite his own injuries, Teddy dedicated the rest of his life to helping others with spinal-cord trauma. He was our best friend, a great humanitarian and a tremendous musical force. His legacy will live on.
Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff
Gamble and Huff founded Philadelphia International Records
This text originally appeared in the Feb. 1, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.