Teena Marie - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Teena Marie is often referred to as a member of the blue-eyed soul movement, though unlike Hall & Oates or Michael McDonald, who were immediately “outed” as being Caucasian in a predominantly African-American musical genre, Marie is often noted for sliding under the radar of race until her second album.
Born Mary Christine Brockert on March 5, 1956, Marie grew up in humble surroundings in the Oakwood section of Santa Monica and showed promise as an entertainer early in her life. A frequently recanted story that speaks to young Marie’s talented ear for music involves her failed attempt at singing along with a priest in church. Legend has it that as a toddler, Marie heard the priest chant “Dominus vobiscum, et cum spiritu tuo” and she responded with a tiny-voiced version of Harry Belafonte's “Day-O.” By the time she was in elementary school, Marie had played a guest role on television classic The Beverly Hillbillies, wherein she did a tap dance for Jed Clampett (Episode 77, “Dr. Jed Clampett”). Clampett misinterprets her dance for a nervous tic and, well, comedy ensues. She is credited for this acting role under the name Tina Marie Brockert. Shortly after this television appearance, Marie sang at the wedding of Jerry Lewis’s son.
High school found Marie continuing to entertain. While she worked at now-defunct Southern California fast-food chain called Pup ‘n’ Taco, Marie dreamed big and quickly moved from working with the Summer Dance Production and school musicals to negotiating a contract with Motown Records. By the time she was 17, Marie had officially changed her name to Teena Marie and was establishing herself as a singer, songwriter, musician, and producer.
Successful in her attempt to join Motown, Marie was introduced to Rick James who would become her mentor as well as her partner both artistically and romantically. When Marie’s tenure with Motown began, she was signed as a backup singer. She quickly moved ahead and within three years of arriving to Motown had released Wild and Peaceful (1979 Motown), her debut solo album. While Wild and Peaceful was written and produced by Rick James, it would be the last of such album collaborations. All of Marie’s subsequent work has been written by her alone, a move that was heartily advocated by James himself. Released in 1979, Wild and Peaceful included the hit single “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love,” a duet with James. The song made it to number eight on the Black Singles Chart. Due to the lack of any imagery of Marie on Wild and Peaceful, it was widely believed that she was an African-American artist. Suggestions have been made throughout the years that this was a purposeful move by Motown, as the general consensus was that a largely African-American market would not buy a record made by a white woman. All that would change by 1980.
Lady T (Motown) was released in 1980 and prominently displayed Marie’s face on both the front and back cover of the album. Produced by Richard Rudolph, the album includes the track “Now That I Have You,” a song that Rudolph had written for his wife, R&B singer Minnie Ripperton, to record prior to her untimely death. Another notable single from Lady T is “Behind the Groove,” which reached number 21 on the Black Singles Chart and went on to be used on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 station decades later.
Also in 1980, Marie released her third full-length solo album, Irons in the Fire (Motown). This album found Marie handling not only writing but also production, including horn and rhythm arrangements of her own. The single “I Need Your Lovin’” marked Marie’s first Top 40 hit. Still with Motown Records, Marie released It Must Be Magic in 1981. It Must Be Magic was certified gold and included the huge hit “Square Biz.” “Portuguese Love” and the title track also got significant airplay, though not as much as “Square Biz.”
By 1982, Marie was in a legal battle with Motown because the label refused to release her material even though they would not release her from contract. This battle resulted in The Brockert Initiative, a law which limits a record company’s ability to keep a musician or artist under contract while refusing to release their material. The passing of the law is said to have aided many artists who were in similar circumstances, thusly making Marie an artists’ hero in the industry.
Post-Motown, Marie signed to Epic Records and released Robbery in 1983. The album featured “Cassanova Brown,” allegedly about Rick James. In 1984, she released her highest-selling album, Starchild (Epic), featuring the radio hit singles “Lovergirl” and “Out on a Limb.” 1986 brought the ill-conceived and ill-received concept album, Emerald City (Epic), which played with rock and roll and just didn’t work for the soulful diva. By 1988, she had returned to her musical roots and came back with Naked to the World (Epic). This album includes the hit “Ooo La La La” that would later be reprised by the Fugees and marks Marie’s only number one single to date.
In 1990, Ivory was released and marked the last album that Marie would put out with Epic. The singles fared relatively well, but the album as a whole did not and Epic and Marie decided to amicably part ways. The mid-Nineties were largely a time for Marie to get in touch with other parts of her life. She devoted herself to raising her daughter, Alia Rose, and even made several television appearances. During this time, she also worked on Passion Play (1994 Sarai), which she released on her own label, Sarai, and on Black Rain – an album that was never officially released.
In 2004, after a significant hiatus, Marie came back with La Doña on Ca$h Money Records’ Classics label. A duet with Gerald Levert on “A Rose by Any Other Name” was well-received and a Grammy Award nomination was given for “Still in Love.” Classics and Marie followed the coattails of these successes with 2006’s Sapphire. “Ooh Wee” hit the Top 40 and Marie was also reunited for two tracks with Smokey Robinson, with whom she had worked decades earlier at Motown. Following the release of Sapphire, Marie left Ca$h Money.
On June 9, 2009, Marie released a jazzy album with Stax Records called Congo Square, which is inspired by New Orleans. Faith Evans joins Marie on the track “Can’t Last a Day.”