Teena Marie, to me, was first and foremost a writer – a woman who scribed reams of poems, songs and stories that poured from a restless imagination, and a heart that knew and respected love intimately (with a heartbeat that instinctively knew where The One dwells: “Behind the Groove”). She loved God clear through to her soul and via His wisdom loved people – from paupers to kings. Therefore, she could converse with, hang with, relate to and make sweet music with people in every strata of society. She was headstrong yet physically fragile, humble yet proud, serene in spirit yet a magnet for drama, White of skin yet irrefutably Black to her core – Wild and Peaceful Lady T.
Blackness is what she gravitated to and what provided the freedom of musical expression for her soul to soar. She cultivated a profound sisterhood of friends and fans that recognized her personal and artistic authenticity instantly – real recognizing real for days. The sound of Blackness erupted like Black Gold from her voice…in the cadences of the rhythms she rocked, in the peppery unaffected inflections she picked up from the ghettos and barrios she feared not to dwell, and in the churchy rapture she refracted when the Spirit so moved her. Black people respect her, feel her, respond to her, love her and uplift her as their own in a way they will not another for decades to come. Trains like “T” don’t pull into Soulsville but once in a millennium.
Teena also had the uncanny ability to write both songs that are timeless and songs that were right on time. Who would have thought that pushing 50, Teena Marie would top youth targeted R&B radio charts with “Still in Love” recorded for a company best known for hardcore Southern hip hop (Ca$h Money Records). Teena’s ears were as big as her voice and prodigious writing talents were wide – her antennae always tuned in to both the beat and the heat of the street - the lilt of the lingo and the vibe of the times, with a soulful filter that steadily sifted art from artifice. She held Hardcore Poetry in equal esteem to the sonnets of Shakespeare and the rhapsodies of Angelou because at heart she knew they were one and the same ALL about communication and expression.
I love the way Teena loved her favorite artistes. She wove not just their names but their essences into her song tapestries. She didn’t write a teary ode to John Lennon after his senseless slaying. She wrote “Revolution,” in which she eulogized her hero by name-dropping his songs and history, then picking up his torch and forward marching with an incensed message about erecting not a statue but a moral constitution. Two albums later when it was time to pay her respects to the likewise tragically departed Marvin Gaye, she united with one of his finest collaborators, Mr. Leon Ware, to pen “My Dear Mr. Gaye,” a song that freeze framed the crooner’s allure in smouldering embers of amour. I wonder: who will write, produce, arrange, sing and play an instrument on a song that powerful in Teena’s honor?
I enjoyed Teena in concert on MANY occasions over the years…magical nights at The Strand in Redondo Beach, the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills, a New Year’s Eve show at the Country Club in Reseda, a Valentine’s Day show at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, and so many more. She even swung a jazz hit at the tiny Westwood club Bon Appetit that folks still rave about to this day as they revelled in her intimate renderings of songs she sat at the piano and shared as if she’d invited them all into her living room. It was attending Teena’s shows where you truly saw how deeply fans succumbed to her mackin’ game and connected to her words – especially women sugar jonesin’ to every line of poetry with carnal knowledge of their profundities...and tryin’ their best to hang with the long and withering shadow of her vibrato.
Even Teena’s staunchest fans have much left to discover when they go back and listen to any one of the thirteen albums she left us – because she was truly an album-oriented artist…trapped, like Colonel Abrams, in a radio singles-driven business. Return to songs that were not your favourites and marvel at how many more amazing moments you’ve yet to enjoy. The Lady left us a garden of lush headphones masterpieces to listen to, make love to, boogie to and adore.
Artistically, her love light shines bright not just in young singer/songwriter/performers such as Alicia Keys, Faith Evans and Katie Melua, but more-so in a rarer breed of ladies that strive even further as producers, arrangers and multi-instrumentalists such as Me’Shell NdegeOcello, Nicki Richards and Teena’s daughter Alia Rose (a.k.a. Rose Lebeau). There will be Master Classes devoted to both the poetry and the trajectory of this woman’s legacy in music. For there will NEVER be another Lady T. One can emphatically surmise from the sheer depth and breadth of her works that Teena Marie truly had been here before, she ain’t comin’ back no more, tears are gonna flow like Nefertiti's myrrh-scented Nile, but her song shall live on…and The Bells will forever ring out her melody.