'Ivory Queen Of Soul' Teena Marie Dies

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Rhythm-and-blues singer Teena Marie has died at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 54. The self-proclaimed "Ivory Queen of Soul," also known as Lady T, made history as one of the first white acts to be signed to soul music label Motown Records, in 1976. She will be remembered for many chart-topping hits, including duets with her mentor, funk icon Rick James. Host Michel Martin looks back on her career.


Normally, on Mondays, I talk to you about something that's on my mind in my weekly commentary Can I Just Tell You. But we wanted to take a moment to remember Teena Marie. So later this week, I'll have a special edition of my Can I Just Tell You commentary on our New Year's Eve program.

But first, rhythm and blues singer Teena Marie, also known as Lady T, was a self-proclaimed Ivory Queen of Soul. The songstress passed away at her home in Los Angeles on Sunday. She was 54 years old.

Teena Marie wasn't the first white woman to sing soul music, but the gifted songwriter, producer and musician was memorable for the many chart-topping hits recorded like "Ooo La-La-La."

(Soundbite of song, "Ooo La-La-La")

Ms. TEENA MARIE (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Sweet thing, you've got me signing ooo la-la-la. It's the way that you feel when you know it's real. Ooo la-la-la. It's the warm that's inside when you're satisfied. Ooo la-la-la. It's a dream that lasts forever. Ooo la-la-la.

MARTIN: Another big hit was "Square Biz."

(Soundbite of song, "Square Biz")

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) ...loud 'cause my love is on the wow. So don't you have no doubt. I'm gonna spell it out. I'll hip you to the Tee that is. I got the best, the most, baby, from coast to coast. And I don't wanna boast, but I love you square biz.

I'm talking square biz to you, baby. Square, square biz. I'm talking love that is square, square biz. I'm talking square biz to you, baby. Square, square biz. I'm talking love...

MARTIN: And she paired with her mentor, funk music icon Rick James, for "I'm A Sucker For Your Love."

(Soundbite of song, "I'm A Sucker For Your Love")

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) Baby, you, too, are a mellow fellow. And you're as rare as vintage wine. I'll take you any place, fit into your time and space. That's why I chose to make you mine, all mine. I'm just a sucker for your love, for love.

Mr. RICK JAMES (Singer, Songwriter): I'm just a sucker for love, sucker for love, sucker for love, baby.

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) I'm just a sucker for your love.

MARTIN: She was born Marie Christine Brockert. She grew up in Venice, California listening to soul music. Lady T fell in love with Motown, the sound that produced black artists like Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five and The Supremes. She was signed on the label in 1979. In 2006, she talked with NPR about her appreciation for and longtime love affair with black music.

Ms. TEENA MARIE: I think it's because of the way I was raised. I just embraced the sound that I loved, and I think that people can feel the genuineness and the purity of Teena Marie. And it's really, really who I am.

MARTIN: Teena Marie eventually left Motown in 1982, and her split had an historic impact. She sued the label, and the legal battle led to a law that prevented record labels for holding artists without releasing any of their music.

Teena Marie's profile faded in the 1990s. Her comeback album "La Dona" was put out on the rap label Cash Money Records. It earned her a Grammy nomination. Last year, she released "Congo Square," which was titled after a meeting place for slaves in New Orleans. The album's featured tributes to Martin Luther King's widow in a song called "Black Cool," which was written for President Barack Obama.

It's been reported that Teena Marie died after suffering a seizure. She was 54 years old.

(Soundbite of song, "Black Cool")

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) ...raining on my window pane. I know we need a change.

Unidentified Woman: Ah, you know we need a change.

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) Oh, what you gonna say?

Unidentified Woman: The world gone faster(ph).

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) I want to change your mind. I want a country that's mine, just to see my people smile.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah. I'm watching the people (unintelligible).

Ms. TEENA MARIE: (Singing) To hear my (unintelligible). It's time for me to...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Let's talk more tomorrow.

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