Motown R&B legend Teena Marie (also known as Tina Marie) passed away yesterday at age 54.
According to Mike Gardner, Marie’s manager, Marie’s daughter Alia Rose found her unresponsive at her home. Marie had been in ill health and had been hit with a seizure just last month.
Marie, born March 5 1956, was known as the ‘Queen of Ivory Soul.” Her real name was Mary Christine Brockert and she was nicknamed Lady Tee (sometimes spelled Lady T). She was a protégée of the late funk legend Rick James, and was notable as one of the few successful white performers of R&B. She definitely had a funky side, expressed in her songs and in the way she played rhythm guitar, keyboards and congas.
She was not the first white act to sing soul music. However, she was probably the most talented and respected, and was fully adopted by black audiences and was nominated for Grammy Awards four times. She took “Ooo La La La” to the top of the R&B charts in 1988. She was
Her only real hit on pop radio was the 1984 “Lovergirl,” which reached No. 4. On black radio, she had six top 10 hits over a dozen years, also including “I’m A Sucker For Your Love,” “I Need Your Lovin’,” “Square Biz,” “Work It” and “If I Were a Bell.”
But a lot of her music was pure rhythm and blues.
“That’s what I grew up on,” she said in a 1985 interview. “I listened to black radio and black musicians. That’s what spoke to me and when I started making my own music, that’s what came out.”
The cover of her first album didn’t include her picture, on the theory that the R&B audience might not buy her record, even if they liked it, if they knew she was white.
Marie said in 1985 that she appreciated the deep irony of that move – since the whole rock ‘n’ roll business was notorious in its early years for not picturing black artists on their own albums because white listeners might be put off.
Her “coming out” was performing “I’m a Sucker for Your Love” with James on “Soul Train,” and it turned out that black audiences and black radio programmers, even if they were surprised this singer was white, had little problem with it.
“I’ve always felt my music came from a lot of places, including classical composers,” she said. “As for R&B, it’s been around so long at this point that it’s America’s music. It’s the world’s music.”
Her 2004 comeback album “La Dona” was certified gold and earned her a Grammy nomination, and “Congo Square,” released in 2009, reached the top 20.
She also recorded in later years with artists like Smokey Robinson and Faith Evans, reinforcing everything she said 25 years earlier about R&B and its sister sounds.
Lady T left an army of fans, black and white, who saw both her and her music as simply honest.
Marie is survived by her daughter Alia and god-daughter, former SNL cast member Maya Rudolph.
RIP, Lady Tee!