Teena Marie made up the funky soundtrack of our lives in the '80s. Her collaboration with mentor "Superfreak" Rick James bestowed upon her a unique musical handle: the "Ivory Queen of Soul"-- a white woman who could sing and boogie down with the best of her Motown bretheren.
Disco songs like "Lovergirl" (1985) and "Ooh La La La" (1988) filled the airwaves and earned her Grammy nominations. They were songs to dance to and hook up by -- fluffy stuff, not Aretha Franklin. We worked out to songs like "Lovergirl" in aerobics classes and had it on a mixtape that we'd play while jogging. You knew you'd burn some calories if you let the music carry you away.
But this past weekend, as news of Teena Marie's demise in California buzzed around the Internet
and her career highlights began to surface, many who regarded Teena
Marie as simple '80s background noise were forced to give another
The story of a white woman crossing over into soul territory was mostly swept under the carpet. Marie's strong melodious voice and singing style paved the way for modern-day divas -- Mariah Carey definitely stands on her shoulders.That Teena Marie wrote her own songs and produced them herself, including her band's horn and rhythm arrangements as well as the backing vocals, was nothing to sneeze at, either.
battled her label, Motown, for nonpayment of royalties, with the net
result of her winning a landmark lawsuit that bars labels from keeping
artists contractually bound if the label refuses to release the
She had a sense of herself to persevere in a male-controlled industry, an industry that didn't know what to do with a white woman who wanted to sing soulful dance tunes, funk and hip-hop. So as a woman at odds with her genre, her commercial success was muted in contrast to pop peers like Madonna.
She worked until she died at age 54 -- which again, is saying something. Now she and James (who died in 2004) can "Oh La La La" into the great hereafter.