They called her the “Vanilla Child,” the Ivory Queen of Soul, Lady T – she was the fire that stoked Rick James’ desire. But the world knew her best as Teena Marie – and just last night fans around the world were shocked to learn that she passed away over the holiday weekend.
Details are still unclear, but she according to The Root, she had recently suffered from seizures, but her death came as a surprise to everyone. Her beautiful daughter Alia Rose had the tragic task of finding her mother, which is especially heartbreaking to anyone who recently watched Teena Marie’s Unsung on TV One. She was especially close to her daughter, and in later years, they sang together.
Teena Marie was a tough, smart woman with a huge voice and striking beauty. She was proud that she wrote, produced, sang and arranged all her own music. She was strong enough to deal with Rick James in the peak days of his stardom, and she matched him on the mic, note for note. Her legal battle with Motown resulted in the Teena Marie Law, whereby “a label cannot keep an artist under contract with releasing his or her music.” And she released album after album of blue-eyed soul music, studded with so many hits and classic jams, it’s hard to know where to begin. But here are my top five you-gotta-know-these Teena Marie jams.
Teena’s biggest solo hit revealed her skills as a musician, a singer, and a writer. 80’s girl power at it’s best!
Everybody get up!! Square Biz remains the JAM to this day. Teena’s voice was so clear, pure, strong and undeniable. Lady T’s rap remains awesome and influential to this day – ask Missy Elliott about that! And not to mention, what other rapper ever namedropped Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni in that time? Nobody but the Vanilla Child. Square, square biz FTW!
I Need Your Lovin’
This was Teena’s first top 40 hit, and it has that late 70’s-early 80’s sound I LOVE. A bassline that won’t quit and a harmony-saturated chorus made for twirling around under the twinkling lights of a roller rink at night. And that’s the bottom line.
Ooh La La La
Shoutout to Lauryn Hill and the Fugees for making Teena’s hook part of hip hop history. Ooh La La La remains one of my absolute favorites. It’s a perennially perfect “quiet storm” jam.
Fire and Desire
Rick James’ Street Songs is a CLASSIC album, and Fire and Desire captures Rick at his most tender and soulful. And Teena’s vocals are just on a whole nother level. No wonder they called her the ivory queen of soul!
Those are my top 5 Teena Marie jams – there were so many others I could have included…but those were the ones that made the biggest impact on me. What’s missing from the list? What are your favorite Teena Marie songs and memories? Share with me, bellas. Let’s remember and celebrate the musical legacy of Lady T today.
RIP, Teena Marie. Your music will always live on!