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A four-time Grammy nominee, Mary Christine Brockert had a strong African-American influence from her godmother. Blessed with the gift of
music at a young age, the Santa Monica, California, native grew up in
the historically African-American enclave of Oakwood in westside Los
Angeles. Raised on Motown music and singing Harry Belafonte music by age
2, Marie’s self-professed “Gift from God” would become fine-tuned as
the years progressed.
Marie worked briefly at Mar Vista's Pup 'n' Taco in the mid 1970s while attending Venice High School, where she joined the Summer Dance Production, and also had a role in the school's production of The Music Man. In a recent television interview she noted she drove a Chevy Vega during this period.
Marie signed with Motown Records in 1976, having gained an introduction to staff producer Hal Davis (best known for his work with Brenda Holloway and the Jackson 5) and then auditioned, with her then band, for label boss Berry Gordy. She recorded unreleased material with a number of different producers, including Kerner and Wise, but was then spotted by Rick James, and guitarist Paul C Saenz, who effectively became her mentors. (Some
of the earlier unreleased material has since been made available on
compilation albums.) Her debut album release, Wild and Peaceful,
was originally conceived as a project to be produced by James for Diana
Ross, but James preferred to work with Marie. The album was at one
point due to be credited to "Tina Tryson", but ultimately was put out
under Marie's now-established stage name. It scored Marie her first
top-ten R&B hit, "I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love" (#8 Black Singles
which was a duet with James. Neither the album sleeve nor other
packaging showed a picture of Marie, apparently on the theory that black
audiences might be reluctant to buy an album by a white artist. In
fact, many radio programmers wrongly assumed Marie was African American during the earliest months of her career. This myth was disproved when Marie performed her debut hit with James on Soul Train in 1979. In 1980, her second album, Lady T, sported a picture of her on the cover.
Marie's second album, Lady T, is noted for having production from Richard Rudolph (husband of R&B singer Minnie Riperton who died a year earlier). Marie had asked Berry Gordy to contact
Rudolph and secure his input as Rick James was unavailable and she did
not feel quite ready yet 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 was later given to Marie.
Rudolph also co-composed the single "Behind The Groove", which reached
number 21 on the black singles chart and the top ten on the U.K. singles
chart. The song was also included on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 station. Another notable track, "Too Many Colors," featured Rudolph and Riperton's then 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph, who became Teena Marie's god-daughter.
Also in 1980, Marie released her third LP, Irons in The Fire, in which she handled all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band and all backing vocals. The single "I Need Your Lovin'" (#37 Pop, #9 Black Singles) brought Teena her first top 40 hit. That same year, Teena Marie appeared on James' hugely successful album Street Songs with the steamy duet "Fire and Desire." The two would perform the single at the 2004 BET Awards, which would be their last TV appearance with one another as Rick James died later that year.
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, #54 Black Singles), the
title track "It Must be Magic" (#30 Black Singles), and album only track
"Yes Indeed" which Marie cites as a personal favorite.
In 1982, Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown records over her contract and disagreements on releasing her new material.
The shuffle resulted in "The Brockert Initiative", which makes it
illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without
releasing new material for that artist. The artist would then be 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."
After leaving Motown in 1982, Marie signed with Epic Records in 1983 and released the concept album Robbery, which featured the hit "Fix It" (#21 R&B), as well as "Shadow
Boxing" and "Casanova Brown." The latter was one of a number of tracks
Marie would write over the years about her real-life romance with
one-time mentor Rick James. The relationship had ended by that point,
but the two would continue a sometimes tempestuous friendship, until
James's death in August 2004. In 1984, Marie released her
biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded the hit single "Lovergirl" which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart
in March, 1985. It peaked at #9 on the R&B chart. She also released
"Out on a Limb" which peaked at #56 on the R&B charts but didn't
make it onto the pop charts. "14k" (R&B #87) was featured on the
soundtrack of the film Goonies from 1985 but didn't chart, as well.
In 1986, 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 another
rock-influenced track, "Lead Me On", co-produced by Giorgio Moroder, for the soundtrack of the box office hit film Top Gun that year. In 1988, however, she returned to her R&B and funk roots 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 remains her only #1 single on that chart to date. During her 1988 Naked to the World concert tour, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized for six months.
Marie released Ivory in the fall of 1990. Despite the success of the first two singles,
"Here's Looking at You" (#11 R&B) and "If I Were a Bell" (#8
R&B), Epic Records was not totally pleased with sales of the album,
so Marie and her label mutually agreed to go their separate ways.
During the 1990s, Marie's classic R&B, soul and funk records were either sampled by hip-hop artists or covered by R&B divas. Marie
herself is regarded as something of a pioneer in helping to bring
hip-hop to the mainstream by becoming one of the first and only artists
of her time to rap one of her singles—the aforementioned "Square Biz."
In the hip-hop portion of that song, she mentions some of her
inspirations: Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya
Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, "just to name a few," as she said in the
song "Square Biz". In 1996, the Fugees paid tribute to her by
interpolating the chorus of her 1988 hit "Ooo, La, La, La" into its own
"Fu-Gee-La," which was a huge hit.
In the fall of 1994, Marie released Passion Play on her own independent label, Sarai. Lacking the backing of a major
label, this album sold less well than her earlier work, but was well
received by fans.
Subsequently Marie devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose (who has since adopted the name Rose Le Beau and is pursuing her own
singing career). During the late 1990s, she made appearances (as
herself) on the TV sitcoms The Steve Harvey Show and The Parkers. She also began work 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.
However, a version pressed for promotional purposes was widely
bootlegged among fans. This contained the tracks "The Mackin' Game,"
"I'll Take the Pressure," "Baby, I'm Your Fiend," "My Body's Hungry,"
"Ecstasy," "I'm on Fire," "Watcha Got 4 Me," "Black Rain," "1999."
"Butterflies," "Spanish Harlem," "Blackberry Playa," "The Perfect
Feeling," and "Rainbow Outro." Some of these tracks resurfaced on the
later albums La Doña, Sapphire, and Congo Square;
in some cases (e.g. "The Mackin Game") in significantly reworked
versions. Although there have been rumors of other tracks recorded
during the Black Rain sessions, including one called "Underneath
the Covers" and another (allegedly a duet with Rick James) titled
"Pretty Tony," these would appear to be apocryphal.
After a 14-year sabbatical from the national spotlight, Marie returned to her musical career by signing with the Classics sub-label of
the successful hip-hop label Cash Money Records, and 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 #6 on the Billboard 200 chart) on the basis of the Al Green-sampled "I'm Still In Love" (#23 R&B, #70 Pop) and a duet with the late Gerald Levert, "A Rose by Any Other Name." Marie was nominated for a Grammy Awards 2005 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Still in Love". Marie quickly followed this success with the release of Sapphire
in 2006. While sales were not as great this time around (the album
peaked at #24 on the Pop Chart), the release did give Marie yet another
R&B Top-40 hit, "Ooh Wee" (#32); it also reunited her (on "God Has
Created" and "Cruise Control") with Smokey Robinson, the early Motown
mentor whose style she had emulated on early hits such as "Young Love."
Marie parted ways with Ca$h Money records after the release of Sapphire.
On September 19, 2008, Teena performed in concert at BB King's restaurant in NYC. Marie took this time to play a couple of finished
tracks from her upcoming album, Congo Square, and she received a positive response from the crowd. Congo Square was released on June 9, 2009 on Stax/Concord Records.
She has described the album as "personal and spiritual" and indicated
that it was more jazz-influenced than most of her previous work. Can't Last a Day,
a duet with Faith Evans, leaked to the internet in March 2009. Teena
Marie says of Evans, "It was after I had recorded the song (Can't Last a
Day) I got the idea to put Faith on it. I’ve always loved Faith and her
vocal style. She reminds me of me. Her correlation with Biggie — having
a career with him and without him — reminds me of me and Rick. I feel like she’s a younger me. Of the younger ladies, she’s the one I love most.”
Meanwhile, as regards her early-life inspirations behind 'Congo Square', in January 2010 Teena told Lee Tyler, editor of the
award-winning Blues & Soul:
"I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was
growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or
some musical giant that I loved. 'The Pressure' is dedicated to Rick
James; 'Can't Last a Day' is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound -
the Philly International sound'. Then 'Baby I Love You' and 'Ear Candy'
are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield - with memories of
riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808.
While 'Miss Coretta' is of course dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King,
the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King."
Sales-wise, the album proved another success, reaching the Top 20 on Billboard's Top 200, and giving Teena Marie yet another Top 10 R&B
chart entry. In 2010, Marie continued to be a headliner on the Las Vegas
Strip, appearing regularly at the Las Vegas Hilton and other venues.