Teena Marie: Untimely passing of the ‘Ivory Queen of Soul’

Teena Marie, the European

Photo by Randee St. Nicholas courtesy of Concord Music Group

American singer/songwriter/producer whose powerful, soulful voice won legions of African American fans over the past three decades, died in her Pasadena, CA home Sunday, December 26 at the age of 54. A month prior, according to her publicist, she had suffered two seizures; at the time of her death, she was at home resting and looking forward to an upcoming performance in Atlanta.

Marie’s career started at Motown with the 1979 album Wild and Peaceful, produced and primarily written by Rick James, who became her lover as well as her mentor. The album spawned the hits “Déjà Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” and “I’m a Sucker for Your Love.”

All of Marie’s albums after her debut were produced, arranged and written primarily by herself. She racked up two platinum albums (1981’s It Must Be Magic, with the hits “Portuguese Love” and “Square Biz,” and 1984’s Starchild, with the top-10 pop hit “Lovergirl” and “Out On a Limb”), two gold albums (1980’s Irons in the Fire, with the hits “I Need Your Lovin’” and “Young Love,” and La Doña, her 2004 Cash Money Records comeback, with the hits “I’m Still in Love” and “A Rose by Any Other Name” with Gerald Levert), and nearly 30 Billboard R&B/soul chart hits.

Most people who fell in love with the voice of the self-titled “Ivory Queen of Soul” on her Wild and Peaceful-era hits did not know she was European American until her first appearance on Soul Train with Rick James in 1979. After that, it still didn’t matter: With almost no major pop crossover hits, Marie developed a loyal African American audience who treasured her work even during the decade-long period (1994-2004) in which she didn’t release an album, during which she focused on raising her daughter, singer Alia Rose.

Marie’s current album, Congo Square (her sixth top-10 R&B/soul chart album, which also made number 20 on the pop chart), included collaborations with Faith Evans, George Duke and Shirley Murdock as well as Alia Rose.

Numerous hip hop and soul artists cite Teena Marie as a major influence, including Mary J. Blige, Common and P. Diddy. Lenny Kravitz, in a tweet, gave Marie credit for taking him in and mentoring him when he was “just a musician on the street.”

Longtime music legends such as Eddie Levert of the O’Jays and Philly Soul producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff also gave tribute to Teena Marie upon her passing. She was recently a recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award.

Sources for information in this article include wikipedia.org,