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Ericka Blount Danois
Ericka Blount Danois writes about music, culture and social justice issues for outlets like The Root, Afropunk, Okayplayer and Playboy. She has written for The Source, Vibe, ESPN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others.

When Black Male Singers Were Sex Symbols

Philadelphia International Records / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Ericka Blount Danois | Longreads | January 2019 | 23 minutes (4,688 words)

 

Driving through blinding rain from Baltimore to Philadelphia recently to see the documentary If You Don’t Know Me By Now, about the life of R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, I was reminded how one of my first encounters with Teddy was as a life-size cardboard cutout of him my mother kept in our living room. Dressed in an Italian silk suit, he became part of my family as my parents and sister passed him daily on our way out the door to school.

I had already admired Teddy when I would browse my father’s extensive record collection as a kid and stare at the covers. Both the Jackson Five’s Third Album and The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon album covers made me wish I had been born just a little bit sooner so I could meet Frankie Lymon or a young Michael Jackson. I thought Marvin Gaye was handsome, but when I saw Teddy Pendergrass’s album Teddy, I said to myself: One day I will marry a man that looks just like that. I don’t know what made Teddy future marriage material and not just a childhood crush. Maybe it was the handsome face and the masculine beard that looked like it tasted like Hershey’s Kisses. Maybe it was the aloof look and the symphony of gold chains on his chest, surrounded by a silk scarf and shirt. Or that North Philly, rough-and-rugged, raspy, commanding baritone voice. Or the way he talked trash on the album’s interludes. Or the half church, half sexual ecstasy shouts and ad-libs, sometimes full-on sermons and conversations mixed with singing. His weellls, ooohwaaahs, and yessssahs all got you to the point that, when he said with conviction “close the door!” on the cut of the same name, you nearly jumped up to slam it shut. He was the kind of man whose steak you made sure was hot when he came home as you handed him his pipe and slippers. Somehow I knew he was the whole package, a man’s man in a time when this is what it meant to be a man. And I wasn’t wrong.

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