*Songwriter and R&B artist Teena Marie left us on Sunday, December 26th and now Jazz pianist, composer, and broadcaster Billy Taylor passed on Tuesday, December 28, 2010. To say we are losing our music greats is an understatement.
Both 54 year old Mary Christine Brockert (aka Teena Marie) and 89 year old Billy Taylor had illustrious careers in the music business. Dr. Taylor ventured into the broadcasting business having engaged with the Sutton family to form Inner City Broadcasting nearly 40 years ago. The broadcasting enterprise later obtained WLIB/WBLIS in New York.
Although it’s purported that Teena Marie died in her California home of natural causes after being discovered by her daughter, Alia Rose, it will take 6 weeks before an autopsy determines the exact cause of death. According to reports, Billy Taylor’s daughter Kim Taylor-Thompson issued a statement that her father died of heart failure.
Born in Greenville, SC, Billy’s family moved to Washington, DC, when Billy was 5 years old. Billy’s love for music led him to Virginia State College where he earned a B.S. in music. He went on to earn a Masters from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where he also obtained a Ph.D. in Music Education.
Dr. Billy Taylor began his career in 1944, playing the piano with the Ben Webster Quartet. He performed at the jazz club Birdland, later forming his own trio. Also, an educator, Taylor served as a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale. Throughout his lengthy career, he composed over 350 songs, creating works that encompassed the worlds of dance, theatre and symphony orchestra. Billy was an Artistic Advisor of Jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was appointed to the National Council of the Arts. He was also affiliated with Mary Lou Williams’ Women in Jazz Festival.
Heard often on National Public Radio, Taylor received an Emmy award, a Grammy, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, 2 Peabody Awards and a United States National Medal of Arts Award.
“I knew Billy. We had mutual friends,” said saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood. “I have always had admiration for him because he was a great musician and human being. His greatness did not bias or prejudice him. He always remained an elegant man and down-to-earth individual. John Coltrane had the same quality. Both were modest. Billy accomplished a great deal during his lifetime. He was an intelligent man who was a musical pioneer with a musical style uniquely his own. I believe at one time he even served as a music analyst for one of the major television networks. Billy was a winner who overcame hurdles and even went on to obtain a doctorate in music. He received several honors and awards and wherever he traveled in the world he was regarded with high esteem. People like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and numerous other musicians held Billy in great regard. In fact, Billy’s life is a testimony to his art. He held over 23 honorary degrees. He also was a Grammy winning jazz pianist and classy man who enjoyed life. This is evidenced by his music and by the many friends Billy had in his life” said Lonnie who is also known as the Prince of Harlem.
Taylor was noted for “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” which gained popularity during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950-60s.
He is survived by his wife, Theodora and daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson.
Born in Santa Monica, California, Mary Christine Brockert (akaTeena Marie) grew up in the predominately African American community of Oakland, California, where she was exposed to the music of Motown. In fact, in 1976, Marie signed with Motown Records where she worked with a number of different producers. She came to the attention of Rick James and eventually recorded “Wild and Peaceful.” The album gave Marie her first R&B hit entitled “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love.” A song she sang as a duet with Rick James, with whom she had a sometimes turbulent romantic relationship.
In fact, so soulful was Teena’s voice that until she appeared with James on the television program Soul Train most fans and radio jocks assumed Teena was African American. Although Teena’s ethnicity was a mixed bag of Portuguese, Italian, Irish and Native American, Teena is once quoted as saying: “Overall my race hasn’t been a problem. I’m a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day, you have to sing what’s in your own soul.”
Also known as Lady T and the Ivory Queen of Soul, Marie released an album entitled “Lady T.” She began to write songs and in 1980, released “Irons in the Fire” which she also produced. Her single: “I Need Your Lovin” made it to the top 40. A protégée of Rick James, Marie sang a duet “Fire and Desire,” with James during the 2004 BET Awards which proved to be their last TV engagement together. Rick James died later that year of what the coroner claimed was a heart attack that might have been brought on by his abuse of drugs. It was determined there were 9 different drugs found in the singer/producer’s system when an autopsy was performed.
Stax Records commented: “The Concord Music Group family and millions of fans around the world lost a great artist and friend on Sunday when soul music icon Teena Marie died at the age of 54. An internationally renowned singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and performer, Teena Marie, released her thirteenth and final album, CONGO SQUARE on June 9, 2009, for legendary soul music label Stax Records. The critically acclaimed collection was a personal milestone for the iconic, Grammy nominated soul music star and Rhythm & Blues Awards Lifetime Achievement recipient as it marked her 30th year in the industry she loved. Teena Marie left a sensational musical legacy. Making her debut in 1979, her sublime musical eclecticism took soul music in new directions, swiftly earning her a hallowed and singular place in the hearts of R&B purists. Throughout her groundbreaking accomplishments, Teena remained humble, unpretentious and refreshingly down-to-earth. Her talent was matched only by her kindness of spirit. She collaborated with musical giants throughout her career and they reciprocated with the kind of love and respect that indicated she was truly one of them.
“The enduring influence of Teena’s inspirational, trailblazing career, could only have been made possible through her brilliant song-writing, showmanship and high energy passion which laid the ground work for the future generations of R&B, hip-hop, and soul,” stated Concord Music Group chief label officer, Gene Rumsey. “We feel extremely fortunate to have worked with a visionary who changed music in indelible ways. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family, friends and of course, millions of fans around the world.”