Mary Christine Brockert, better known by her stage name Teena Marie, died on December 26, 2010 at age 54 in her home. The queen of blue eyed Soul leaves behind a daughter, Alia Rose, and legacy of funky, soulful R&B classics.
A talented performer, Teena played rhythm guitar, keyboards and congas in addition to belting out notes in her distinctive voice. The Santa Monica, California native grew up in the historically black enclave of Oakwood, immersed in black culture and raised on classic Motown music.
She signed with Motown records herself in 1976 after being introduced by producer Hal Davis (famous for his work with Benda Holloway and the Jackson 5). She recorded a number of unreleased material, but soon caught the attention of Rick James and guitarist Paul C. Saenz who would become her musical mentors.
Teena’s debut album, Wild and Peaceful was a project produced by Rick James that was originally intended for Diana Ross. James felt Teena was a better fit for the album. Her first top-ten R&B hit, “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love” won the hearts of audiences who assumed the powerhouse singer was black. Concerned R&B audiences wouldn’t accept a white artist, label execs chose not to include any photography of Teena on her debut album. But once her credibility and fan base was established the veil of mystery was lifted when she performed her hit song on Soul Train in 1979 alongside Rick James. Though her ethnicity proved to be a shocker to listeners, she was embraced for her undeniable talent.
Teena enjoyed a long and successful career, spanning 13 albums and moving from Motown to Epic to Stax Records. Around the time she chose to leave Motown Records, the singer was embroiled in a heated battle over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material. The legal battle left its imprint on the record industry as “The Brockert Initative” which makes it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. In such instances, artists are able to sign and release music under a new label instead of being held their unsupportive one. The precedent helped artists like Luther Vandross and the Mary Jane Girls escape contracts that were stunting their success.
Between her time at Motown and Epic, she released a series of chart-topping and timeless hits including “I Need Your Lovin,” her duet with Rick James on “Fire and Desire”, “Square Biz”, “Lovergirl”, “Lean on Me” and “Ooo La La La” which was sampled on The Fugees “Fu-Gee-La.”
Much of Teena’s work was sampled by Hip Hop and R&B artists in the 90s. She’s also credited as one of the artists who helped bring rap to the mainstream, being one of the few artists to include a rap in a hit song. Her single “Square Biz” featured the singer spitting funky, fast-paced lyrics on the bridge.
Though a seasoned veteran of the industry, Teena appreciated the work of contemporary artists as demonstrated by her duet with Faith Evans on “Can’t Last a Day” on her most recent work. She revealed that Evans’ correlation with Biggie and the career she developed without him reminded her of her own career in regards to Rick James. Also, as a fan of Faith’s vocal style, it seemed only right to collaborate.
The album, Congo Square, was released in June of 2009. She she described it as personal, spiritual and more Jazz-influenced than her previous work. The album landed in the top 20 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, and on the Top 10 R&B chart. The singer was a regular headliner on the Las Vegas Strip, until her death the day after Christmas.
The “Portuguese Lover” will be sorely missed.
– Quia Querisma
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Quia Querisma is a freelance writer, Dallas Glambassador, and enthusiast of dresses, shoes, premium denim and socializing of all varieties. She is many things to many people at QuiaQuerisma.com