Monday, December 27, 2010

8296: Teena Marie (1956-2010).

From The New York Times…

Teena Marie, 1980s R&B Hitmaker, Dies at 54

By Ben Sisario

Teena Marie, a singer whose funky hits in the 1980s, like “Lovergirl” and “Square Biz,” made her one of the few white performers to consistently find success on the rhythm-and-blues charts, died on Sunday at her home in Pasadena, Calif. She was 54.

The cause was not immediately known, but The Associated Press reported that the authorities said she appeared to have died of natural causes.

Born Mary Christine Brockert in Santa Monica, Calif., on March 5, 1956, she grew up in a predominantly black area of nearby Venice, Calif., and began singing and acting while still a child. At age 8, she tap-danced for Jed Clampett on an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” under the name Tina Marie Brockert.

After graduating from high school and briefly attending Santa Monica College, she signed with Motown Records and became of protégée of Rick James, then one of the label’s biggest new stars. Teena Marie’s first album, “Wild and Peaceful,” with James as a producer and the chief songwriter — and his Stone City Band backing her up — was released on Motown’s Gordy imprint in 1979.

“I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love,” her duet with James from that album, went to No. 8 on the R&B singles chart. The two began a tempestuous love affair. Another duet, “Fire and Desire,” appeared on James’s hit album from 1981, “Street Songs.” James died in 2004.

Through the 1980s, Teena Marie developed a style that folded bits of rap (as on the 1981 hit “Square Biz”) and rock (“You So Heavy,” from 1986, has a scorching guitar solo by Stevie Ray Vaughan) into danceable, funk-driven pop.

From the start, race was ambiguous in her music. She was not pictured on the cover of “Wild and Peaceful,” which was promoted to black radio stations. With an earthy voice that pierced with power in its high registers, she was highly credible as an R&B singer, and many listeners learned that she was white only when they saw her portrait on the cover of her second album, “Lady T,” in 1980.

“I still have people coming up to me 26 years later and looking at me and all of a sudden going, ‘I didn’t know you were white!’” she said in an interview on National Public Radio in 2006.

But she was embraced by the R&B audience, and some of her songs have become ingrained in black musical culture. Her 1988 song “Ooo La La La” was sampled and reconfigured by the Fugees as “Fu-Gee-La” in 1996 on their debut album, “The Score.”

For many of her fellow musicians, Teena Marie’s biggest accomplishment was made offstage. Her lawsuit against Motown in the early 1980s, for nonpayment of royalties, resulted in a clarification of California law — known in the music industry as the Brockert Initiative or the Teena Marie Law — that made it much more difficult for record companies to keep an act under an exclusive contract. After leaving Motown, she signed with Epic and reached her commercial peak. Her 1984 song “Lovergirl” — featuring her impassioned squeal in the chorus, “I just want to be your lover girl/I just want to rock your world” — went to No. 4 on Billboard’s pop chart and became her biggest seller.

In the 1990s, Teena Marie’s career slowed as she raised a daughter, Alia Rose, who survives her. But she continued to release music. She was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award for best female R&B vocal performance, for her song “I’m Still in Love” — she lost to Alicia Keys — and released her most recent album, “Congo Square,” on the revived Stax label in 2009.

Although Teena Marie’s race was hidden from the public at the very beginning of her career, she was always forthright about the black influences in her music. In an interview with last year, she suggested that the content of the music mattered more than the singer’s color.

“Overall my race hasn’t been a problem,” she said. “I’m a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your own soul.”

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