*Touted as the “black singer in white skin” and the “ivory queen of soul”, R&B singer Teena Marie (“Lady T”) died Sunday December 26th at her home in California.
Born Mary Christine Brockert in the city of Santa Monica, the 54-year-old artist who apparently died in her sleep was discovered by her daughter. Marie had just the night before, attended a celebration for her daughter whose birthday was on Christmas day.
Coming through the ranks at Motown Records, Marie became best known for hit songs like “Lovergirl,” Portuguese Love,” “Ooo La La La” and “I’m A Sucker For Your Love.” A protégé of the late funkster legend Rick James, her blockbuster hit was “Fire and Desire,” a duet with James.
A statement from Motown Founder Berry Gordy reads:
“I am horrified by the sudden death of my darling Teena Marie. She was my “baby,” always true to herself, always true to her heart. When I first auditioned her she was so awesome she blew me away. She had so much soul – the only thing white about her was her skin. She was a powerhouse performer, writer, producer and arranger. Anyone who ever saw her perform, alone or with Rick James, will never forget how exciting music can be. My heart goes out to her sweet, sweet daughter, Alia Rose, her family, friends and fans. Teena Marie will always be a part of the Motown family. We will all miss her.”
Former Motown Vice President Iris Gordy upon presenting Marie with the 2008 R&B Foundation’s Individual Artist Pioneer Award remembered: “That little girl used to come sit in my office with her guitar…and she used to just lull us [with] her work. Everytime I was in the office, I was so happy to see Teena come in because we knew it was going to be a joy. Later on we were looking for producers to produce her…can you imagine … no producer could come up with a hit on Teena. For three and a half years, no hit records with that voice!”
Iris went on to tell the story of how she was able to eventually convince James – who was red hot at the time – to work with Marie, and the rest is history.
Upon accepting her award, a tearful Marie said:
“Everything I ever asked God to give me, he gave me, and I have to give him the glory. I asked my heavenly father to take my poetry and let me set it to music, and he did. I asked my heavenly father when I looked at [that blue Detroit label] to take me to Detroit, and Detroit came to Los Angeles. I asked my heavenly father for a daughter and he sent me my beautiful daughter on Christmas day. I asked my heavenly father that my mother live a long life, and she will be celebrating her 86th birthday in March.”
Then almost sobbing she added, “I used to listen to ‘Egyptian [Love] Song’ Chaka (speaking to Chaka Khan seated in the audience), and I swore to all my friends that I was there with you…and the greatest songs you ever recorded were the ones you wrote yourself…and I asked my heavenly father [if I could] meet you, and I did…so I’m so thrilled and thankful…(sobbing)…this is so overwhelming for me…thank you!”
The death of Teena Marie so far is the bookend to a decade of brilliant stars in music and other entertainment fields who have passed on; particularly in the R&B world; and especially among those who got their start at Motown including Michael Jackson who passed away in 2009. Marie also recorded on Epic Records among others.
Iris who was a staunch advocate for getting Marie a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which is yet to be granted) said, “Teena was a great storyteller and songwriter, and she really knew black history. She taught me about Congo Square, and knew just as much as any historian on black studies.” She also added, “Teena and I had been talking about a gospel album concept for her … I think it would have been great!”