We lost Teena Marie at only 54 years old on December 26, 2010. Today she would have been 63 years old.
She was a staple in R&B music without appropriating or stealing Black culture. Born as Mary Christine Brockert, her talent was unmatched; not even by the vocal dexterity of Mariah Carey, who perhaps had greater technical range, but who has to this day never quite unearthed what Marie did—a soprano-to-alto-and-back-again Black soul. Marie, from her Oakland childhood days, was enamored by black spirit (she credited her dear godmother, a black woman). For a sweet moment in time during the late 70’s through the mid 80’s, she willfully rode the effervescent rollercoaster of the post-black power collective heart without ever hopping off.
See Also: Top Ten Teena Marie Songs
Marie didn’t merely dabble in Black music and conveniently weave her way in and out of worlds, playing both sides of the racial fence. She didn’t talk Blackness, either. Instead, she showed it. We were then and now forever lifted by songs like, “Behind the Groove,” and “Cassanova Brown,” and — Lord knows — “Portuguese Love.” Through otherworldly arrangements and lyrics she authored herself always (“Tender was the kiss when you held me captive in your sweet embrace…” she sang in “Out on a Limb”), Marie somehow expressed the inexpressible.
That pulsating pleading to go deeper and love harder, which has somehow always been our emotional essence, was demonstrably Marie’s, too. She didn’t fight Motown, not at first, when in 1979 she became their first non-Black artist and was told by Berry Grody to release her debut album without her image to not turn off Black audiences. In 1982, she split with Motown after a historic lawsuit and signed to Epic Records. Nonetheless, she stayed with R&B. Marie trusted that the truth lay in the melody. And it wasn’t that the masterful yet complicated Rick James gave her something she didn’t already have. But James did evoke something in her. They went on to created a divine musical affair that tilted the world off its axis and redefined the very definition of the duet. There is indeed a generation that might well credit the couple for their lives. We know for sure that countless Black babies were made to the give-you-chills “Fire & Desire.”
Marie proved her worthiness and earned her “for colored girls” badge — not through rocking cornrows or grills; not even necessarily through her maverick embrace of the early spark and energy of hip-hop (“I’m less than five foot one/ a hundred pounds of fun/I like sophisticated funk/I live on Dom Perignon/Caviar/Filet Mignon/And you can best believe that’s bunk,” she rapped in “Square Biz”); but by her truly uncontrived passion sitting atop a barely-concealed pain.
Dare it be said, the woman we dubbed the “Ivory Queen of Soul,” truly gifted us with her “Black heart” by being exactly who she was — herself. Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera, Robin Thicke and many others could never be Teena Marie.
Long live, Lady T.