Before her untimely death at the age of 54 two years ago, Teena Marie was hailed as a legend. The petite white woman made her own way in the world of black music, established blue-eyed soul as her own personal genre. Marie was a California girl who early on developed a reverence for black music as part of a multitude of influences as she detailed on her hit “Square Biz.”
“Well, I like spirituals and rock, Sarah Vaughan, Johann Sebastian Bach/Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni just to name a few,” she said.
The one called “Vanilla Child” was born and raised in Southern California where she spent her childhood immersed in music and literature. Her musical skills brought her to Motown, where she remained creatively unfulfilled until meeting Rick James, with whom she would have both a personal and professional relationship. The professional relationship would lead to collaborations that ushered Marie into the R&B ranks where she began a relationship with black audiences that remained throughout her career.
Marie would record a mainstream hit “Lovergirl” but was best known for her sultry ballads, “Portuguese Love,” “Out On a Limb,” “Irons in the Fire,” and perhaps her best known single “Fire and Desire,” a duet with James.
Over her career, Marie released 13 different albums for five different labels, going platinum with 1984’s “Starchild,” and gold with several others. Marie was known for her impassioned vocals and for her evocative songwriting, especially as it related to her songs about love.
Teena Marie’s legacy lives on through the singers she’s influenced as well as her own body of work. She was part of black music history as one of the few white artists whose music was wholly accepted by Black audiences. Marie was part of the contemporary Motown sound which felt like coming home to her as she had been influenced by the Supremes. In fact, she says it was Diana Ross who most intimidated her when they met.
Marie’s vocal prowess, lyricism and musicianship lives on. Her daughter Alia Rose is also as singer/songwriter who may yet carry on her mother’s musical lineage. This Black Music Month we salute the music and memory of Teena Marie.