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Teddy Vann -

In celebration of the incredible life of the unbelievable Teddy Vann

  Teddy Vann - A Giant Remembered

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On Sunday. December 6, 2009. we lost an unbelievable man, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, godfather, Grammy award- winning writer, producer, leader, philosopher, intellectual, motivator, mentor, teacher, humanitarian, and visionary. The great Teddy Vann left us after a year-long battle with cancer.

Teddy’ was born and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He left high school early; formal education could not feed the mind of a genius. Teddy was, without question, a genius. He had a mathematical, analytical mind. He spoke multiple languages and he loved the expressions on people’s faces when he spoke Yiddish. He loved the power and beauty of words. He was a thinker and life-long student — a non-conformist, who challenged the status quo, questioned much of what others accepted, and pushed for young people to think out of the box and stretch their creative minds.

Back in New York City. song book filled with fresh work. Teddy Vann hit the city streets in search of a creative outlet. The story, as Teddy told it, was that one day he walked into legendary music executive, Morris Levy’s office with his work, showed him some music, and played him some tunes. Levy loved everything Teddy played. Levy realized instantly the wonder that was young Teddy V/ann. Enamored by Teddy, Levy allowed the young writer access to several songwriting projects, including landing the first of his many hits performed by singing sensation Johnny Thunder who made Teddy s “Loop De Loop” into a smash hit in 1963. Teddy also tried his hand as a recording artist, singing a few songs he had written and produced. He even ended up performing on an episode of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in front of a gang of screaming teens. The fans loved him, but Teddy didn’t love the stage. Deciding he would focus professionally as a producer/songwriter, Teddy would score several more hits. Teddy Vann has 140 songs registered at BMI. He participated in a number of projects, including “Tales of the Dixie Drifter” that included Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Sam Cooke, and Bob Dylan. He wrote and produced the adventures of Akila Jamila “The Beautiful Black Princess and the Five Treasures of Life.” Other artists he worked with include Estelle of the Ronettes, Lou Donaldson. John Fogerty, Donna Summers. and many more. Teddy always stressed the importance of one’s autonomy over one’s work and ideas. He was approached by many to bring his work to other people in the industry like Puff and JayZ, and artists like Whitney Houston, but he was reluctant because he always wanted to maintain ownership over his work.

Teddy fell in love and married his soul mate Wanling, a beautiful, intelligent woman, also a Brooklyn native. During the late 1960s, Teddy, coming to a stronger sense of self (he liked to tell people and coined the phrase “born-again African”). and perhaps spurred by the climate of the times -- the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers -- let his hair grow natural, and gave his children traditional African names. His three children, Akim, Kayode and Chinyere, sported huge afros, easily recognized on their regular appearances on Sesame Street in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Teddy and his family settled into and raised their family in a home in Lefferts Gardens.

Teddy and his family hosted the first of many week-long celebrations of Kwanzaa honoring African culture and heritage. Many who knew him at the time are quick to state how he introduced them to celebrating Kwanzaa ... to bring it to their section of Brooklyn. Each subsequent year, the celebrations grew bigger, better, drawing hundreds out to partake in the festivities — many from different races, different faiths. Attempting to empower children of color. he created songs like Santa Claus Is A Black Man, a song way before its time: and he wrote and produced "The Adventures of Colored Man” starring James Earl Jones. At his Brooklyn home, he reached out to kids he realized had talent -- some through basketball, lie was known to many as an incredible shooting coach, raising some street players to go on to play college and professional ball, and others to go on to become doctors, lawyers, and other professional leaders. He even created and wrote a book called Basketball and Mathematical Learning Adventure in which he rekindled the mathematical aptitude of young Black students. He reached others through chess; Teddy was a brilliant chess player and was often in the company of ranked and master chess players. And of course, he reached others through music. He worked and developed many talents, vocally trained many singers, including a young soon-to-be-known Luther Vandross. His home for years was occupied by the youth he took under his wing. Teddy never lost any of his passions for the empowerment of youth, educating Black kids about race relations, sports, chess and music.

In 1991, Teddy won the music industry’s coveted Grammy Award for writing and producing “The Power Of Love /Love Power” as performed by his former protégé Luther Vandross.

Always a proud man, but moving without the gloss of showbiz, Teddy kept it low, even though his voice, his words, his guidance were strong in the community. Youth dubbed him the real BK Cosby. Earlier this year, right after he. his wife, and his son did it big down in Washington, D.C. for the President’s inauguration, he was diagnosed with cancer, thus beginning his year-long bout with the disease. Round after round of tests, treatments, hopes and projections, he fought; he fought really hard. He never gave up, nor did he give up in schooling us. the hundreds of kids he raised in every walk of life. Surrounded by the young ball players, doctors. layers. singers. songwriters, actors, authors, personalities he raised, he continued to push us.  The closer he got, the harder he got with us. During his last weeks, he was working on a remake of one of his songs. He had a crew of 10 people working around the clock in his basement studio, surrounded by a sea of empowering, thought-provoking books and his encased Grammy sitting there, perhaps a reminder to us all of the many things he accomplished.

Sunday morning. December 6, 2009, a great man passed away peacefully. Teddy Vann left us all, and those who had the opportunity to be blessed first hand by his power know full well that in some way, this great man left us all in a better place. On December 6th, we lost a powerful leader, a father, a mentor, a hero to so many.

Teddy leaves behind to cherish his memory, his beloved wife, Wanling Vann; three children: Akim Vann Ossé (and her husband Reggie Ossé), Kayode Teddy Vann (and his wife Venus Velez Vann) and Chinyere Vann; seven grandchildren: Chuma, Chi, Kai, Kara Sky, Samari, Kai-Ling, Lula; two brothers, nieces, nephews, other relatives, in-laws, and a myriad of friends. He also leaves behind a host of “sons” and “daughters” and “brothers” and “sisters” who live on to carry out his legacy.

Santa Claus was indeed a Black man, and the gifts that he gave to the world are priceless and timeless. Peace & Love Power Teddy Vann. Thank you for blessing our lives. You will be greatly missed, but your legacy lives on forever!

NOTE: The absence of Teddy Vann’s birth date is not an oversight; it is intentionally omitted. in line with Teddy’s non-conformist ways and his strong desire to never be defined by time, he never disclosed his age. And we desire to respect and honor his and his family’s wishes to keep it that way…

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