Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How I Loved Teena Marie


So two days ago I found out that singer Teena Marie died and my world was just devastated. I think I may be more harshly affected by her passing then when MJ died, mainly because she inspired me so much as an artist. She was a songwriter, an incredible vocalist and was a very strong woman on top of all of that.

There are so many things she accomplished that I don't even think people associate with her. She is the recording artist who brought to creation the law that record companies can't bind an artist by contract and not put out any of their music after she sued Motown when she was on their label early in her career. Of course, she is one of the only white women to have longevity as an R & B and soul singer and to be so fully embraced culturally. I think that is significant given how race and class obsessed we are as a culture.

Teena Marie snagged me as a fan as early as I can remember. I remember being 6 years-old and grooving to her duets with Rick James and listening to the gossip of the grown-ups who were shocked that this petite white woman was (a) the very same person who grooved us with "Lovergirl" and "Square Biz" and (b) gave such freaky live shows when she performed onstage with Rick James. My kiddie ears were fascinated to eavesdrop on grown folks talking about how she and Rick James would do "Fire and Desire" with such sexual intensity that it was plain to see the passion between them. When I was in college, when my cassette tapes were becoming outdated and I had to switch over to CDs and a CD player, her greatest hits CDs were among my first CD purchases. "Dear Lover", "Out on a Limb", "Portugese Love", "Oh La La La", "If I Was a Bell" and "Square Biz" were played endlessly. "Deja Vu" changed my spiritual beliefs. No lie. When her self-distributed CD Warm As Momma's Oven came out the year after I graduated from college, I played it relentlessly. That is my favorite CD, from start to finish from her. My spouse is the only man I've dated who loved Teena Marie as much as I do. I told him that before her death and teased that that is probably what made me adore him as I do. He is familiar with even more of her hidden gems than I am.

I wrote about her album Ivory this past month, as the album turns 20 years-old this year and I learned even more about her strength. She produced that entire album while also playing many of the instruments, arranging the music, and, of, course, singing all of the songs. She was amazing. She always reminded me of my mother somehow, too, which I think added to my love for her in general. Short framed and sassy like my mother, appearing to look one way but undeniably born from Black culture in consciousness and tastes, she and my mother share similar attributes that I think made her really familiar to me. I will never ever get over how incredibly hyped I was when she tweeted me last month after I shared my SoulBounce piece on her album Ivory and mentioned how much me and my family are groupies of hers.

I can go on and on with why I loved her so. I am so sad she has transitioned, maybe selfishly so, because I'll never meet her in person, but inwardly, I know that death is not the end, but a new beginning. As Lenny Kravitz said in a YouTube share when he heard the news of her passing, "Thank God for Teena Marie".

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