by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)
With today’s Good Black News Spotify playlist, we salute a true ally of the Black musical community, the late Christine Marie Brockert a/k/a the one and only Teena Marie, on what would have been her 65th birthday.
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Teena Marie is a singularly unique presence in music – a white female artist who, over the course of an entire successful career, always felt most at home in Black music.
In fact, when Motown Records released her first album Wild and Peaceful in 1979, the cover consisted simply of a photo of clouds over an ocean – completely avoiding showing her racial identity so as not to bias listeners towards her soulful singing. (Interestingly, this was the reverse of a trick they had previously employed in the early ’60s, using random graphics instead of artist photos on album covers for Mary Wells and The Marvelettes down South to avoid showing Black faces.)
Along with Rick James‘ production, just focusing on Marie’s voice and not her image worked – by the time Black listeners learned Teena Marie was white, she had already won them over with her songs and commitment to Black music, and classic soul fans embraced her fully.
Growing up in the late ’70s, I first remember Teena Marie for her uptempo funk/dance hits – “Square Biz,” “I Need Your Lovin’, “and my personal fave, “Behind the Groove.”
But over time, I realized that Teena’s truest connection to R&B was in her ballads – dramatic, long, lushly orchestrated, poetic, sensuous. She wrote and sang many bedroom classics over the course of a 30+ years, before her untimely death at the young age of 54 back in 2010.
Today’s playlist is entitled “Fire & Desire: Teena Marie’s 40 Best Ballads”. This playlist consists of hits and album tracks from across her career. “Deju Vu,” “Casanova Brown,” “Portuguese Love,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Out on a Limb,” “Aladdin’s Lamp” “Dear Lover,” “Irons in the Fire” – we’ve got them all here, along with her Rick James duets.
But we’ve also got stripped-down ballads like ‘The Greatest Love of All Time.” Released on the collection First Class Love: Rare Teena Marie, this acoustic ballad was one of the demo tracks Teena created prior to her first Motown album – and it’s clear to see that her talent was fully formed even then.
And we’ve got tracks you may not have heard from her end-of-career resurgence with the albums La Dona, Congo Square, Sapphire, and posthumous effort, Beautiful.
We hope you’ll check out our one-woman Quiet Storm session, and, in the process remember a true groundbreaker, musical innovator, and truly unique singer – a woman like no other – Lady T.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, Teena Marie.
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