Every time we go on vacation, when I give my goodbye hugs to the women on my staff – I’d give a man-hug to J. if he weren’t in Los Angeles – it’s with an unspoken understanding that we hope nothing too big or too bad happens while we’re gone. But it almost always does.
As my thoughts and prayers have been so strongly on our queen Aretha Franklin (who I talked to on Christmas Day, by the way), I got the news last night that Teena Marie had died. Caught completely off guard like the rest of the world, not only was I devastated, I had to figure out how we could pay a fitting tribute to Lady T without being live in the studio. Not only was I chilling in Tobago, I had no Internet service and could not communicate with my senior producer, Nikki Woods. So, in an era where even I, still a loyal faxer, can’t go anywhere without my iPad, I had to rely on doing things the old fashioned way – by phone.
I finally got in touch with one of my writers, Mary Boyce, to pass on my directions to Nikki. In the meantime, the staff had already begun putting today’s show together. And if you heard the show this morning, you probably realized once again the necessity of black radio like the TJMS brings and why I’m so proud that my name is in the jingle.
Our connections with African-American artists are deep, and when we lose one, we want and expect more than to hear someone read a portion of their bio from Wikipedia.
I knew and loved Teena Marie, and she and knew and loved me. Over the years, we’ve been on stage together at outdoor concerts, Sky Shows, the Fantastic Voyage Cruise and in our own Red Velvet Cake Studio. And no matter how many times I saw her, she was real – full of life and full of love: for me, for Rick, for black people, for black music and for her daughter, who had just celebrated her 18th birthday the day before Teena died.
If Teena and I ever had a stressful moment, it was when I told her that her precious daughter Alia Rose would not be able to accompany her on the cruise three years ago because of her age. Teena fought hard, but the rules for the cruise couldn’t be changed – no one under 21 was allowed, period. It was almost a deal-breaker for Teena, but in the end, she relented, came on the cruise and put on a great show, as usual.
She probably had one of the best voices in the business, but remained humble. At the jazz show in Miami Gardens last year, she showed up without a huge entourage, without a lot of drama, without a lot of demands – and turned it out.
It takes J. to tell the story.
Mary J. Blige was on the same show, and, bless her heart, before Mary J. goes on stage, she makes everyone leave. No one except her people are allowed on stage, backstage, near the stage, period. That’s the way she rolls.
Teena was always the opposite. She thrived from the love and energy she received from people, black, white, old, young, rich, poor. From the average fan to the biggest celebrity, she had nothing but love. And she got that love back!
When we got back on the air on Monday, J. made it known that Teena was the show stopper that weekend! And it’s not because she was white. In fact, if you’re going with the bit, Teena was too black for J.!
We all would joke a lot about Teena having a pass from sisters, who could typically be a little salty with white women who so comfortably made their way into African-American territory. But I never, ever heard one black woman say a negative word about Teena or give her that look.
You know the one.
Now, granted, she WAS with Rick James, so maybe black women said, “You handle that one, Teena; we’re good!”
Whatever the case, Teena was one of the purest examples of how music goes much deeper than color, especially when it comes from the soul. Our text messages this morning reflected our listeners’ appreciation for Teena – for the music, and appreciation for the TJMS for helping them remember her.
Here are a just a few of the hundreds that came in:
Goodbye, Teena Marie. We lost a good soul sistah!
Saw Teena at a Sky Show in Charlotte. She was great! What year was that?
Tom, every time you go on vacation, somebody always dies. RIP Lady T!
Our show is a living journal of moments big and small that you can’t find just anywhere – certainly not mainstream media. One memory I have is how much my girl Myra J. loved Teena’s song “Portuguese Love.” That song made sense to two people that I know of: Teena and Myra. First of all, it was so cool to say Portuguese.
“Portuguese Love” and “Déjà Vu” will make you start thinking about going back to your ex. Until the songs are over!
“But I loved “Portuguese Love” because it was so exotic and uninhibited, and it reminds of making hot monkey love in the snow.”
That’s MY girl!
As sorry as I am for not being on the air to say goodbye to Teena, it was sort of fitting for it to have happened during “TJMS @ Its Best” because she truly was one of the best. And kudos to my staff – Nikki, Ross, Mike, RnB, K-Jay, Stephanie W., Deya, Roland, Madelyn, Mary, K.C. and New Dave for making it happen and making all of us proud.
Keep it wild and peaceful, Lady T! We love you!