Thursday, September 15, 2016
Teena Marie: Influences
I remember one lazy day I was watching MTV and they played a brand new video. It was "Lover girl" by Teena Marie. I was hooked.
A few days later I went to the music store and bought a couple of her early releases. It was a treasured discovery for me. I have been a fan ever since, and always will be. When I learned of her passing, I was about as much in shock and sorrow as I was when Michael Jackson passed, and Elvis Presley.
The thing I liked most about her and her music was that she wasn't always just "radio" hungry nor did she ever have to take off her clothes on stage or in music videos to showcase her talents. I respect that. She was a true songwriter and authentic performer. She didn't play it up for the record labels, she played it up for the fans. A true original if you ask me. About as down to earth as an artist can get. There was nothing fake about Teena Marie. And you just don't get that anymore these days where recording artists are concerned because it seems everyone has a fame complex. She did it for the music. Writing was her soul.
Mary Christine, or Tina as she was called, was the daughter of construction worker Thomas Leslie Brockert and his wife, home renovator Mary Anne. She spent her early childhood in Mission Hills. Her ethnic heritage was Portuguese, Italian, Irish, and Native American. In 2005, while visiting Louisiana, she had discovered that her paternal ancestors once lived in New Orleans. She took to singing naturally, performing Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat Song by age two. She also developed a fondness for singing Motown songs, and her self-professed "gift from God" would become fine-tuned as the years progressed.
When she was eight years old, her parents began sending Tina on auditions which, among other things, netted her an acting role on The Beverly Hillbillies, credited as Tina Marie Brockert. She also sang at the wedding of Jerry Lewis' son when she was 10 years old. Reared in a Roman Catholic household, she learned to play the piano under the tutelage of two nuns, and later taught herself the guitar, bass, and congas. She would go on to form a semi-professional R&B band with her younger brother Anthony and their cousin.
In the early 1970s, after the family moved to Venice, Los Angeles, Brockert spent her adolescent years in the historically black Venice enclave of Oakwood, nicknamed "Venice Harlem". There, she would acquire a strong spiritual influence from neighborhood matriarch Berthalynn Jackson, an African American who would become her godmother.
While attending Venice High School, Brockert joined the Summer Dance Production and was the female lead in the school's production of The Music Man. She also fronted a local Venice rock band "Truvair" in 1974–1975; the band's members were her high school classmates.
Following graduation, Brockert juggled auditioning for various record companies with studying English Literature at Santa Monica College. She credited her love of reading with helping her to write lyrics.
At the time, James, already established as a successful recording artist, was on tap to produce for Diana Ross but changed his mind and decided to work with Brockert, instead. The result was her debut album release, Wild and Peaceful. The album was, at one point, due to be credited to "Teena Tryson", but ultimately was put out under "Teena Marie", the name by which she would be known throughout her remaining career. It scored Teena Marie her first top-ten R&B hit, "I'm a Sucker for Your Love" (#8 Black Singles Chart), a duet with James. Neither the album nor its packaging had her picture on it, and many radio programmers assumed she was African-American during the earliest months of her career. This myth was disproved when she performed her debut hit with James on Soul Train in 1979, becoming the show's first white female guest. (She would appear on the show eight more times, more than any other white act.)
Her portrait graced the cover of her second album, Lady T (1980), which is also noted for having production from Richard Rudolph (the widower of R&B singer Minnie Riperton). Teena Marie had asked Berry Gordy to contact Rudolph and secure his input, as Rick James was unavailable, and she felt unprepared to be sole producer of her own material. Rudolph intended for the song he penned, "Now That I Have You", to be sung by his wife, but it was later given to Teena Marie. Rudolph also co-composed the single "Behind The Groove", which reached number 21 on the black singles chart and No. 6 on the U.K. singles chart in 1980. The song would also be included on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 soundtrack. Another notable track, "Too Many Colors", featured Rudolph and Riperton's then 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph, who became Teena Marie's goddaughter.
Also in 1980, Teena Marie released her third LP, Irons in the Fire, for which she handled all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band, and all backing vocals, achievements considered rare at the time for a female artist. The single "I Need Your Lovin'" (#37 Pop, No. 9 Black Singles) brought Teena Marie her first top 40 hit; it also peaked at No. 28 in the UK chart.
That same year, Teena Marie appeared on James' hugely successful album, Street Songs, with the duet "Fire and Desire". In an interview, Teena Marie said she had a fever at the time yet managed to record her vocals in one take. After the session, she was driven to a hospital. The two would perform the single at the 2004 BET Awards, which would be their last TV appearance with one another, as James died later that year.
Teena Marie continued her success with Motown in 1981, with the release of It Must Be Magic (#2 Black Albums Chart), her first gold record, which included her then biggest hit on R&B, "Square Biz" (#3 Black Singles). Other notable tracks include "Portuguese Love" (featuring a brief, uncredited cameo by James, No. 54 Black Singles), the title track "It Must be Magic" (#30 Black Singles), and the album only track "Yes Indeed", which she cited as a personal favorite.
In 1982, Teena Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown Records over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material. The lawsuit resulted in "The Brockert Initiative", which made 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 with another label instead of being held back by an unsupportive one. Teena Marie commented on the law in an LA Times article, saying, "It wasn't something I set out to do. I just wanted to get away from Motown and have a good life. But it helped a lot of people, like Luther Vandross and the Mary Jane Girls, and a lot of different artists, to be able to get out of their contracts." She left Motown as the label's most successful white solo act.
In 1984, Teena Marie released her biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded her biggest hit "Lovergirl", which peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1985 and at No. 9 on the R&B chart. The label also released the moderate R&B hit "Out on a Limb", which peaked at No. 56 on the R&B chart but didn't break the Hot 100. "14k" was featured on the soundtrack of the film Goonies (1985) but was not a hit (only making the U.S. R&B charts at #87).
In 1986, Teena Marie released a rock music-influenced concept album titled Emerald City. It was controversial with her established fan base and not as successful as its predecessors. She also recorded the rock-influenced track, "Lead Me On", co-produced by Giorgio Moroder, for the soundtrack of the box office hit film Top Gun (1986).
In 1988, she returned to R&B and funk, releasing the critically acclaimed album Naked to the World. That album contained the hit "Ooo La La La", which reached the top of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and was her only No. 1 single on that chart. During her 1988 Naked to the World concert tour, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized for six months.
Teena Marie released Ivory in the fall of 1990; it scored no pop hits, but it did experience two R&B hits: "Here's Looking at You" (#11 R&B) and "If I Were a Bell" (#8 R&B)
During the 1990s, Teena Marie's classic R&B, soul, and funk records were either sampled by hip-hop artists or covered by R&B divas. Teena Marie herself is regarded as something of a pioneer in helping to bring hip-hop to the mainstream by becoming one of the first artists of her time to rap one of her singles - the aforementioned "Square Biz".
In the fall of 1994, Teena Marie released Passion Play on her independent label, Sarai Records. Lacking the backing of a major label, this album sold less well than her earlier work but was well received by fans.
Subsequently, Teena Marie devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose (who has since adopted the stage name "Rose Le Beau" and is pursuing her own singing career). During the late 1990s, Teena Marie made appearances (as herself) on the TV sitcoms The Steve Harvey Show and The Parkers. She also began working on a new album, titled Black Rain. She was unable to secure a major label deal for this and did not want to put it out on her own Sarai label, in light of the modest sales of Passion Play.
After a 14-year sabbatical from the national spotlight, Teena Marie returned to her musical career by signing with the Classics sub-label of the successful hip-hop label, Ca$h Money Records. She released her comeback album, La Doña, in 2004, and follow up Sapphire, in 2006. La Doña became a gold-certified success (and the highest-charting album of her career, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart) on the basis of the Al Green-sampled "I'm Still In Love" (#23 R&B, No. 70 Pop) and a duet with the late Gerald Levert, "A Rose by Any Other Name". Teena Marie was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Still in Love" and quickly followed this success with the release of Sapphire in 2006.
Throughout her career, Teena Marie lived in Inglewood and Encino, Los Angeles, before settling in Pasadena, California in the mid-1980s.
Teena Marie was godmother to actress-comedian Maya Rudolph and to Marvin Gaye's daughter, Nona Gaye. She also cared for Rick James' son, Rick, Jr., and family friend Jeremiah O'Neal.
Lenny Kravitz posted a video in which he said that Teena Marie had taken him into her home and helped him when he was struggling early in his career.
In 2004, while Teena Marie was sleeping in a hotel room, a large picture frame fell and struck her on the head. The blow caused a serious concussion that would cause momentary seizures for the rest of her life. On the afternoon of December 26, 2010, Teena Marie was found unresponsive by her daughter, Alia Rose, at Teena Marie's home in Pasadena, California.
On December 30, 2010, an autopsy was performed by the Los Angeles County coroner, who found no signs of apparent trauma or a discernible cause of death, and concluded she had died from natural causes.
She had suffered a tonic–clonic seizure a month before.
A memorial service was held at Forest Lawn Cemetery on January 10, 2011. Among those in attendance were Smokey Robinson, LisaRaye, Sinbad, Tichina Arnold, Stevie Wonder, Deniece Williams, Shanice Wilson, Queen Latifah, and Berry Gordy, Jr.
You can visit her official website here: TEENA MARIE OFFICIAL WEBSITE
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