by Scarlet Waters
If there is one thing I love about Black Folk, it is how much we embrace ANYone who embraces our culture. And if they excel at it—we take them into our hearts as family. This is what we consider Teena Marie—FAMILY. Dubbed the Ivory Queen of Soul, the first time most Black Folk heard Portuguese Love, and Square Biz, we were like, who is this sister? The sister was a little Portuguese/Italian/Irish girl from Southern California who was lucky enough to have spent a good deal of her adolescence in a historically black neighborhood near Venice Beach called Oakwood where neighborhood matriarch Berthalynn Jackson, who later became her Godmother, would have a profound influence on her spiritual and musical leanings.
She started singing Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song at age two, continued on to singing Motown songs, and had formed her own R&B band by 1974 with former high school classmates. She had already learned piano and taught herself guitar, bass, and congas. Berry Gordy finally discovered her and signed her in 1976. Rick James was with Motown at the time and he eventually became a fan, opting out of working with Diana Ross to work with Teena instead, and as we all know, history was in the making. She release I’m a Sucker For Your Love in 1979 which went to #8 on the Black Singles chart. There was no picture of her on the album, so it was assumed she was Black. Everyone was shocked when she performed the song on Soul Train with Rick James, becoming the very first white female artist to perform on the show, and going on to perform eight more times on the show making her the most featured white artist on Soul Train.
I will never forget when my mother brought home her 1983 album Robbery (which by the way featured a veritable orchestra of accomplished musicians including Stanley Clarke and Patrice Rushen). I remember being enthralled by the picture of her in that red convertible on the cover thinking, damn, this white girl can SANG. I learned every single lyric to every single song on that album and Teena Marie became a permanent musical fixture in the soundtrack to my life. Her untimely passing was very sad for the musical community. But her legend will live on with songs like Fire & Desire, Lovergirl, and I Need Your Lovin which will be played into eternity, and that’s the bottom line.