Like so many of you, I heard Teena Marie and would have fought anyone who said she wasn’t black. The tone of her voice, the phrasing, the subtleties that distinguish soul singers from every other type of singer…she had it. She had it all. Great songs but more importantly, great performance. Her legendary duet with Rick James, Fire and Desire, will forever be one of the greatest love songs of all time and one that will stand the test of time. In that song, you can hear the pain and joy that their brief romantic relationship produced. It still makes me laugh to think that Berry Gordy didn’t put her face on her first album because he wanted people to fall in love with her voice, which they did. Genius.
Saying that she will be missed is an understatement. Her voice and presence in many ways, I feel, helped to begin a uniting process between the races. Many in the community wondered how she could have so much soul and not be black. For us, she showed that soul is a feeling and not always linked to race. In many ways, this was one of the first times we had to question what “Black” music really was. We are forever grateful for her contributions.
Although we have lost a great person in physical form, we will always have her songs and spirit among us.
Here are a few of our favorites:
1) Portuguese Love from ‘Iron’s in the Fire’
2) You Make Love Like Springtime from ‘Irons in the Fire’
3) It Must Be Magic from ‘It Must Be Magic’
4) Fire and Desire from Rick James’ ‘Street Songs’
5) Casanova Brown from’Robbery’
All Music does a great job describing her here:
“No white artist has sung R&B more convincingly than Teena Marie, whose big, robust vocals are so black-sounding that when she was starting out, some listeners wondered if she was a light-skinned African-American. Marie grew up in west Los Angeles in a neighborhood that was nicknamed “Venice Harlem” because of its heavy black population. The singer/songwriter/producer was in her early twenties when, around 1977, she landed a job at Motown Records. It was at Motown that she met her mentor and paramour-to-be, Rick James, who ended up doing all of the writing and producing for her debut album of 1979, Wild and Peaceful. That LP, which boasted her hit duet with James, “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love,” didn’t show Marie’s picture — so many programmers at black radio just assumed she was black. When her second album, Lady T, came out, much of the R&B world was shocked to see how fair-skinned she was. But to many of the black R&B fans who were eating her music up, it really didn’t matter — the bottom line was she was a first-rate soul singer whose love of black culture ran deep.
By her third album, 1980’s gold Irons in the Fire, Marie was doing most of her own writing and producing. That album boasted the major hit “I Need Your Lovin’,” and Marie went gold again with her next album, It Must Be Magic (which included the major hit “Square Biz”). It Must Be Magic turned out to be her last album for Motown, which she had a nasty legal battle with. Marie got out of her contract with Motown, and the case ended up with the courts passing what is known as “The Teena Marie Law” — which states that a label cannot keep an artist under contract without putting out an album by him or her.
Switching to Epic in 1983, Marie recorded her fifth album, Robbery, and had a hit with “Fix It.” In 1984, Marie recorded her sixth album, Starchild, and had her biggest pop hit ever with “Lovergirl.” Though Marie had often soared to the top of the R&B charts, “Lovergirl” marked the first time she’d done so well in the pop market. Ironically, Marie was a white singer who had enjoyed little exposure outside the R&B market prior to “Lovegirl.”
Three more Epic albums followed: 1986’s Emerald City, 1988’s Naked to the World (which contained her smash hit “Ooh La La La”), and 1990’s Ivory. Unfortunately, Marie’s popularity had faded considerably by the late ’80s, and Epic dropped her. In 1994, the singer released Passion Play on her own Sarat label. Ten years later, she signed to Cash Money and released La Doña, featuring assistance from Gerald LeVert, Rick James, and MC Lyte. Sapphire followed two years later. Though both La Doña and Sapphire peaked at number three on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, she switched to Stax for her next album, 2009’s Congo Square.”