February is the month for lovers and February 21 is the date on which a
A compelling tale with surprising twists and turns, the film is an intimate portrait of one of the greatest singers of his generation. It also tells how Teddy fought for the rights of African-American artists in a 1970s music industry prejudiced against black performers and reveals how, aged just 31, Pendergrass overcame terrible tragedy to get back on stage against all the odds.
BAFTA award-winner, Olivia conceived, researched and directed the film, which reveals Teddy’s meteoric rise from his tough childhood in Philadelphia to become the lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His was the voice of worldwide hits, Don’t Leave Me This Way and If You Don’t Know Me by Now.
Olivia recalls: “I grew up listening to soul music and I’d just started listening to Teddy again when I saw a documentary about Shep Gordon, the legendary artist manager who worked with everyone from Blondie to Alice Cooper – and Teddy. It included a little bit about him working with Teddy Pendergrass and it made me realise that I didn’t know what had happened to him. I had a really strong sense that I had to make a film to tell his story.”
Olivia contacted Shep Gordon, who agreed to join the project as an executive producer, along with Michael and Katherina Saunders. A short trailer was enough to sell the idea to BBC Films, who stepped in to co-finance the production with Wasted Talent. The 106-minute documentary includes magical and rarely seen original footage of Teddy’s performances as well as intimate and candid interviews with co-performers, friends and family. They include Teddy’s ex-wife Karen and mother Ida – now 100-years-old, all of whom co-operated fully with the production, as did Teddy’s widow, Joan Pendergrass.
Lichtenstein, who is a partner and director of Storyvault Films, which produces programmes for all the major UK broadcasters and top digital channels added: “This is an extraordinary, human story that feels almost Shakespearian – it’s much more than just a music biopic, it’s an intimate portrait both of Teddy and of the extraordinary times in which he lived. We really get to know him because we hear from so many people who were close to him. It almost feels as if he comes back to life to let the world hear him sing again.”
Producer Piers Tempest of Tempo Productions added: ”Teddy’s story is an important and ultimately inspiring one and we are delighted to help shine a light on the man and his music”.
Following the BFI premiere (19 February) and theatrical release through Moviehouse Entertainment, Teddy Pendergrass – If You Don’t Know Me will air on Sky Arts and on the BBC in the UK.
We at BRWC can’t wait to watch it!
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