Gone But Not Forgotten: Teena Marie
March 5, 1956 - December 26, 2010
Teena Marie was much more than just Rick James' protege. No white artist has sung R&B more convincingly than Teena Marie, also known as the Ivory Queen of Soul. The bottom line: Teena Marie was a first-rate soul singer whose authentic, color-blind love of black culture ran deep.
Born Mary Christine Brockert, Tina was her childhood nickname, but some also called her Lady T or Lady Tee (after Rick James started calling her that). Her parents noticed her talent and sent her on auditions for acting and singing, which led to a role on The Beverly Hillbillies, and a singing gig at Jerry Lee Lewis' wedding. Teena Marie played piano as a child and then rhythm guitar, keyboards, and congas and eventually wrote, arranged and produced most of her own music since her third album Irons in the Fire. She formed a band with her younger brother and cousin which became semi-professional. During her teenage years, her family moved to Venice, Los Angeles, where Teena Marie found her godmother and spiritual influence from the neighborhood. Teena Marie also performed in high school musicals and played in a local rock band. After high school, Teena Marie studied literature at Santa Monica College while trying to get the noticed by record labels.
Teena Marie caught the attention of Motown producer Hal Davis and then Berry Gordy, who signed her as a solo artist. During the late 1970s Teena Marie worked on recording songs with other producers but her work went unreleased until it caught the ear of Rick James who dug her sound. Rick James turned down a producer role for Diana Ross to work with Teena Marie and as a result, Wild and Peaceful was released in 1979. The duet with Rick James, "I'm a Sucker For Your Love" became a #8 hit on the R&B charts. The album Lady T followed in 1980, and Irons in the Fire later that year. 1980 was also the year she recorded the duet "Fire and Desire" with Rick James for his Street Songs album. Their last performance together was "Fire and Desire" at the 2004 BET Awards. 1981 was another good year with It Must Be Magic and the single "Square Biz." All three of these records, Lady T, Irons in the Fire and It Must Be Magic went gold.
In 1982 Teena Marie left Motown after a lawsuit and signed with Columbia Records - this also allowed her to set up her own publishing company. The lawsuit with Motown became known as The Brockert Initiative or the Teena Marie Law - which made it hard for a record label to keep an artist under contract without publishing any of their albums. Her biggest selling album was released in 1984, Starchild going platinum with the hits "Lovergirl" and "Out on a Limb." 1998's "Ooo La La La" was her only #1 R&B single.
In 1991, Teena Marie had a daughter named Alia Rose who is now also a singer that uses the name "Rose Le Beau." She was godmother to Maya Rudolph and also Marvin Gaye's daughter, Nona Gaye, and helped take care of Rick James' son, Rick James Jr. In the 1990s, Teena Marie appeared on The Steve Harvey Show and The Parkers. In 2004, Teena Marie released La Doña on Cash Money Records, which also went gold, but suffered a head injury from a large picture frame in a hotel room and experienced seizures on and off for the rest of her life as a result. A month before her death she had suffered a seizure. She died on December 26, 2010. Her daughter, Alia Rose, helped finish and release Teena Marie's 14th album, Beautiful, after her death.