Friday, January 7, 2011
Teena Marie: The Vanilla Child
Soul singer Teena Marie was found dead at age 54 by her daughter the morning after Christmas. The official cause of death according to her manager Mike Gardner was a heart attack, although she had suffered a grand mal seizure a month prior to her death. I am writing this piece for a couple of reasons: 1) She was one of my all time favorite singers; and 2) She is the only Caucasian singer I know of who had to cross over to the pop charts, which makes her an anomaly of sorts. I had the pleasure of attending her concerts on several occasions and the crowd was always a sea of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Her music brought all types of people together, if only for one night, making her an example of diversity and harmony.
Teena Marie was best known for the song "Lovergirl", which peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 Chart. She had numerous R&B hits, including #1 "Ooh La La La". She began her career in the early 1960's with an appearance on "The Beverly Hillbillies" credited as Tina Marie Brockert. At the age of 10 she sang at the wedding of entertainer Jerry Lewis's son. She was signed to Motown in 1976 at the age of 20, but her career did not take off until she was paired with singer/songwriter/producer Rick James on her debut album "Wild and Peaceful" in 1979. Motown realized that her voice and singing style would appeal to an African American audience, so they purposely did not include a photo of Marie on the album. Motown albums that follow included "Lady T", "Irons in the Fire", and "It Must Be Magic".
Marie remained at Motown until 1982, when she became enthralled in a bitter legal battle with the label, which resulted in what became known as the "Brockert Initiative". The initiative made it illegal for a record label to keep an artist under contract and not release new material on the artist. Artists Luther Vandross and The Mary Jane Girls benefited from this lawsuit because they were able to void their recording contracts. She signed with Epic Records and it was there that she released her biggest selling album to date, "Starchild". By the early 90's Marie found herself without a recording contract, so she recorded independently on her Sarai label.
After a long hiatus, Marie had a resurgence with her 2004 cd entitled "La Dona" and in 2005 she was nominated for a Grammy Award. Two more albums followed, including the acclaimed 2009 "Congo Square". She maintained a level of excellence in her performances that kept her in heavy demand. She was set to go on tour in January 2011 according to those close to her. Marie inspired many of today's female artist (Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Lauryn Hill, Lisa Stansfield) and she will be sadly missed by her family, friends, and fans. Listen to the clip below and you will understand why she was so special and adored by many. Rest In Peace Teena Marie (03/05/56 - 12/26/10).