Teena Marie, known as ‘Ivory Queen of Soul,’ dies


 Teena Marie, known as Ivory Queen of Soul, diesTeena Marie’s last album, “Congo Square,” was titled after a historical meeting place for slaves in New Orleans, featured a tribute to Martin Luther King’s widow and also song “Black Cool,” written for President Barack Obama.

No matter that Marie, 54, was white. The R&B legend revered and fully immersed herself in black culture — and in turn was respected and adored by black audiences, not only for her immense soulful talents, but for her inner soul as well.

“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,” she told Essence.com in an interview last year while promoting “Congo Square.” That album would turn out to be her last.

The self-proclaimed “Ivory Queen of Soul,” whose many classic hits included “Lovergirl,” Square Biz” and the scorching duet “Fire and Desire” with mentor Rick James, was found dead in her Pasadena home on Sunday at the age of 54. Authorities said her death appeared to be of natural causes.

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Teena Marie said she had successfully battled an addiction to prescription drugs; she had been performing over the last year.

“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,” said Concord Music Group chief label officer, Gene Rumsey; Concord’s Stax Records released her last album.

“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.”

Marie certainly wasn’t the first white act to sing soul music, but she was arguably among the most gifted and respected, and was thoroughly embraced by black audiences, and beyond.

Even before she started her musical career, she had a strong bond with the black community, which she credited to her godmother. She gravitated to soul music and in her youth decided to make it her career.

Marie made her debut on the legendary Motown label back in 1979, becoming one of the very few white acts to break the race barrier of the groundbreaking black-owned record label that had been a haven for black artists like Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.

The cover of her debut album, “Wild and Peaceful,” did not feature her image, with Motown apparently fearing black audiences might not buy it if they found out the songstress with the dynamic, gospel-inflected voice was white.

“(Motown founder Berry) Gordy) said that is was so soulful that he wanted to give the music an opportunity to stand on its own merit. Instead of my face, they put a seascape, so by the time my second album came out people were like, Lady T is White?” she told Essence.com.

Marie was the protege of the masterful funk wizard James, with whom she would have long, turbulent but musically magical relationship.

Marie notched her first hit, “I’m A Sucker for Your Love,” with the help of James on that album. But the time her second album was released, her face was known — and on the cover of the record. But there was not a backlash — she would only get more popular on her way to becoming one of R&B’s most revered queens. During her tenure with Motown, the singer-songwriter and musician produced passionate love songs and funk jam songs like “Need Your Lovin’,” “Behind the Groove.”

Marie’s voice was the main draw of her music: Pitch-perfect, piercing in its clarity and wrought with emotion, whether it was drawing from the highs of romance or the mournful moments of a love lost. But her songs, most of which she had a hand in writing, were the other major component of her success.

Tunes like “Cassanova Brown” “Portuguese Love” and “Deja Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” featured more than typical platitudes on love and life, but complex thoughts with rich lyricism. “Deja vu” was a song about reincarnation.

And “Fire and Desire,” a duet with James about a former couple musing about their past love, was considered a musical masterpiece and a staple of the romance block on radio stations across the country.

Marie left Motown in 1982 and her split became historic: She sued the label and the legal battle led to a law preventing record labels from holding an artist without releasing any of their music.

She went to Epic in the 1980s and had hits like “Lovergirl” and “Ooo La La La” but her lasting musical legacy would be her Motown years.

Still, she continued to record music and perform. In 2004 and 2006 she put out two well-received albums on the traditional rap label Cash Money Records, “La Dona” and “Sapphire.”

James, who had a romantic relationship with Marie but also a long friendship, died in 2004. His death shook her so she said she became addicted to Vicodin, which she had been taking for pain, for about a year.

But Marie said she successfully battled that addiction.In 2008, she talked about her excitement of being honored by the R&B Foundation.

Marie was the mother of a teenage daughter who was budding singer; she would sometimes bring her daughter onstage to sing during her shows.

In 2009, she celebrated 30 years in the recording industry, and planned for many more.

“All in all, it’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride,” she told The Associated Press in 2008. “I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

Biography

Early life

Mary Christine Brockert had a strong African-American influence from her godmother. Blessed with the gift of music at a young age, the Santa Monica, California, native grew up in the historically African-American enclave of Oakwood, California in westside Los Angeles. Raised on Motown music and singing Harry Belafonte music by age 2, Marie’s self-professed “Gift from God” would become fine-tuned as the years progressed.[5]

As a child, she had an acting role on The Beverly Hillbillies, credited as Tina Marie Brockert. She also sang at the wedding of actor Jerry Lewis‘ son when she was 10 years old.

Marie worked briefly at Mar Vista’s Pup ‘n’ Taco in the mid 1970s while attending Venice High School, where she joined the Summer Dance Production, and also had a role in the school’s production of The Music Man.[6] In a recent television interview, she noted she drove a Chevy Vega during this period.

1979–1982: Motown era

Marie signed with Motown Records in 1976, having gained an introduction to staff producer Hal Davis (best known for his work with Brenda Holloway and the Jackson 5) and then auditioned, with her then band, for label boss Berry Gordy. She recorded unreleased material with a number of different producers, including Kerner and Wise, but was then spotted by Rick James, and guitarist Paul C Saenz, who effectively became her mentors. (Some of the earlier unreleased material has since been made available on compilation .) Her debut album release, Wild and Peaceful, was originally conceived as a project to be produced by James for Diana Ross, but James preferred to work with Marie. The album was, at one point, due to be credited to “Tina Tryson”, but ultimately was put out under Marie’s now-established stage name. It scored Marie her first top-ten R&B hit, “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love” (#8 Black Singles Chart)[7], which was a duet with James. Neither the album sleeve nor other packaging showed a picture of Marie, apparently on the theory that black audiences might be reluctant to buy an album by a white artist. In fact, many radio programmers wrongly assumed Marie was African American during the earliest months of her career.[8] This myth was disproved when Marie performed her debut hit with James on Soul Train in 1979. In 1980, her second album, Lady T, sported a picture of her on the cover.

Marie’s second album, Lady T, is noted for having production from Richard Rudolph (husband of R&B singer Minnie Riperton, who died a year earlier). Marie had asked Berry Gordy to contact Rudolph and secure his input as Rick James was unavailable and she felt unprepared to be sole producer of her own material. Rudolph intended for the song he penned, “Now That I Have You”, to be sung by his wife, but it was later given to Marie.[9] Rudolph also co-composed the single “Behind The Groove”, which reached number 21 on the black singles chart and the top ten on the U.K. singles chart.[7] The song was also included on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 station.[10] Another notable track, “Too Many Colors,” featured Rudolph and Riperton’s then 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph, who became Teena Marie’s god-daughter.

Also in 1980, Marie released her third LP, Irons in The Fire, in which she handled all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band and all backing vocals.[11] The single “I Need Your Lovin’” (#37 Pop, #9 Black Singles) brought Teena her first top 40 hit. That same year, Teena Marie appeared on James’ hugely successful album, Street Songs, with the steamy duet “Fire and Desire”. The two would perform the single at the 2004 BET Awards, which would be their last TV appearance with one another as Rick James died later that year.[12]

Marie continued her success with Motown in 1981, with the release of It Must Be Magic (#2 Black Albums Chart), her first gold record, which included her then biggest hit on R&B, “Square Biz” (#3 Black Singles). Other notable tracks include “Portuguese Love” (featuring a brief, uncredited cameo by James, #54 Black Singles), the title track “It Must be Magic” (#30 Black Singles), and album only track “Yes Indeed”, which Marie cites as a personal favorite.

In 1982, Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown records over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material.[13] The scuffle resulted in “The Brockert Initiative”, which makes it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. In such instances, artists are able to sign and release with another label instead of being held back by an unsupportive one. Teena Marie commented on the law in an LA Times article, saying, “It wasn’t something I set out to do. I just wanted to get away from Motown and have a good life. But it helped a lot of people, like Luther Vandross and the Mary Jane Girls, and a lot of different artists, to be able to get out of their contracts.”[14]

1983–1990: Epic era

After leaving Motown in 1982, Marie signed with Epic Records in 1983 and released the concept album Robbery, which featured the hit “Fix It” (#21 R&B), as well as “Shadow Boxing” and “Casanova Brown.” The latter was one of a number of tracks Marie would write over the years about her real-life romance with one-time mentor Rick James. The relationship had ended by that point, but the two would continue a sometimes tempestuous friendship, until James’s death in August 2004. In 1984, Marie released her biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded the hit single “Lovergirl”, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart[15] in March, 1985 and at #9 on the R&B chart. She also released “Out on a Limb”, which peaked at #56 on the R&B charts but didn’t make it onto the pop charts. “14k” (R&B #87) was featured on the soundtrack of the film Goonies (1985) but did not chart.

In 1986, Marie released a rock music-influenced concept album titled Emerald City. It was controversial with her established fan base and not as successful as its predecessors. She also recorded another rock-influenced track, “Lead Me On”, co-produced by Giorgio Moroder, for the soundtrack of the box office hit film, Top Gun (1986). In 1988, however, she returned to her R&B and funk roots, releasing the critically-acclaimed album Naked to the World. That album contained the hit “Ooo La La La“, which reached the top of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and remains her only #1 single on that chart to date. During her 1988 Naked to the World concert tour, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized for six months.

Marie released Ivory in the fall of 1990. Despite the success of the first two singles, “Here’s Looking at You” (#11 R&B) and “If I Were a Bell” (#8 R&B), Epic Records was not totally pleased with sales of the album, so Marie and her label mutually agreed to go their separate ways.

1991–2003: Hiatus, Passion Play and Black Rain

During the 1990s, Marie’s classic R&B, soul, and funk records were either sampled by hip-hop artists or covered by R&B divas. Marie herself is regarded as something of a pioneer in helping to bring hip-hop to the mainstream by becoming one of the first and only artists of her time to rap one of her singles—the aforementioned “Square Biz”. In the hip-hop portion of that song, she mentions some of her inspirations: Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, “just to name a few”. In 1996, the Fugees paid tribute to her by interpolating the chorus of her 1988 hit, “Ooo, La, La, La”, into its own “Fu-Gee-La”, which was a huge hit.

In the fall of 1994, Marie released Passion Play on her independent label, Sarai Records[1]. Lacking the backing of a major label, this album sold less well than her earlier work, but was well received by fans.[citation needed]

Subsequently, Marie devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose[16] (who has since adopted the stage name “Rose Le Beau” and is pursuing her own singing career). During the late 1990s, Marie made appearances (as herself) on the TV sitcoms, The Steve Harvey Show and The Parkers. She also began work on a new album, titled Black Rain. She was unable to secure a major label deal for this, and did not want to put it out on her own Sarai label in light of the modest sales of Passion Play. However, a version pressed for promotional purposes was widely bootlegged among fans. This contained the tracks, “The Mackin’ Game”, “I’ll Take the Pressure”, “Baby, I’m Your Fiend”, “My Body’s Hungry”, “Ecstasy”, “I’m on Fire”, “Watcha Got 4 Me”, “Black Rain”, “1999″, “Butterflies”, “Spanish Harlem”, “Blackberry Playa”, “The Perfect Feeling”, and “Rainbow Outro”. Some of these tracks resurfaced on the later albums: La Doña, Sapphire, and Congo Square; in some cases (e.g. “The Mackin Game”) in significantly reworked versions. Although there have been rumors of other tracks recorded during the Black Rain sessions, including one called “Underneath the Covers” and another (allegedly a duet with Rick James) titled “Pretty Tony”, these would appear to be apocryphal.

2004–2007: La Doña to Congo Square

After a 14-year sabbatical from the national spotlight, Marie returned to her musical career by signing with the Classics sub-label of the successful hip-hop label, Cash Money Records. She released her comeback album, La Doña, in 2004, and follow up Sapphire, in 2006. La Doña became a gold-certified success (and the highest-charting album of her career, peaking at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart) on the basis of the Al Green-sampled “I’m Still In Love” (#23 R&B, #70 Pop) and a duet with the late Gerald Levert, “A Rose by Any Other Name”. Marie was nominated for a Grammy Awards 2005 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Still in Love”. Marie quickly followed this success with the release of Sapphire in 2006. While sales were not as great this time around (the album peaked at #24 on the Pop Chart), the release did give Marie yet another R&B Top-40 hit, “Ooh Wee” (#32); it also reunited her (on “God Has Created” and “Cruise Control”) with Smokey Robinson, the early Motown mentor whose style she had emulated on early hits such as “Young Love”. Marie parted ways with Ca$h Money records after the release of Sapphire.

On September 19, 2008, Teena performed in concert at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York City. Marie took this time to play a couple of finished tracks from her upcoming album, Congo Square, and she received a positive response from the crowd. Congo Square was released on June 9, 2009 on Stax/Concord Records. She has described the album as “personal and spiritual” and indicated that it was more jazz-influenced than most of her previous work. “Can’t Last a Day”, a duet with Faith Evans, leaked to the Internet in March 2009. Teena Marie says of Evans, “It was after I had recorded the song (”Can’t Last a Day”) I got the idea to put Faith on it. I’ve always loved Faith and her vocal style. She reminds me of me. Her correlation with Biggie — having a career with him and without him — reminds me of me and Rick. I feel like she’s a younger me. Of the younger ladies, she’s the one I love most.” [17]

Meanwhile, with regard to her early-life inspirations for Congo Square, in January 2010 Teena told Lee Tyler, editor of the award-winning Blues & Soul magazine: “I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. ‘The Pressure’ is dedicated to Rick James; ‘Can’t Last a Day’ is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound - the Philly International sound’. Then ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Ear Candy’ are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield - with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While ‘Miss Coretta’ is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King.”[18]

Sales-wise, the album proved another success, reaching the Top 20 on Billboard’s Top 200, and giving Teena Marie yet another Top 10 R&B chart entry. In 2010, Marie continued to be a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip, appearing regularly at the Las Vegas Hilton and other venues until just before her death on December 26, 2010 at age 54.

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