A death during the holiday season is always especially difficult to take. The loss stings particularly hard when someone of Teena Marie‘s calibre—a singer-songwriter who was such a huge part of your childhood—gets snuffed out.
Marie’s known for many things: Motown’s first white artist, a multi-instrumentalist, and Rick James’ muse, collaborator and lover. She was also an incredible vocal performer. Songs like “Lovergirl,” “Square Biz,” “Behind the Groove,” “Portuguese Love,” “Casanova Brown,” and “Fire & Desire,” the white-hot duet with Rick James are essential recordings. The fact that she was white had little bearing on whether black audiences would embrace her. Early on, all that we knew is that she could sang her ass off.
In an interview posted on the Palm Beach Post website this past March, Marie (born Mary Christine Brockert) addresses the race/color issue.
It’s interesting because it wasn’t like that at all in the beginning. I never really dealt with the color question. It’s only been in the last few years. I think it’s because there’s a lot of white soul singers now. That has to be what it is. It was never an issue before. When I started singing it was unheard of for anyone of my color to sound like me. My picture wasn’t on the album cover. (Motown CEO Barry) Gordy felt the music was that black sounding that it would take off on its own merit. He wanted to let the music speak for itself. It just happened that he African-American community absolutely loved and embraced me. That’s a blessing. I don’t think that there’s been anyone in last 30 years that has been looked at and accepted like that. If you go to a Teena Marie concert, 80 percent of the people will be black. At a Justin Timberlake concert, the majority will be white. I’m just that integrated in the music culture and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
Teena Marie R.I.P. We shared the same birthday (March 5). You will be missed but your ballad-funk will always stay with us.
WATCH her on Soul Train: