Teena Marie (born Mary Christine Brockert on March 5, 1956 in Santa Monica, California, USA) is an American Grammy Award-nominated singer/songwriter/producer. Marie, nicknamed "Lady T", is a protegé of late funk legend Rick James, and is notable as one of the few successful Caucasian R&B performers, currently the reputed queen of blue-eyed soul. She sings R&B with big, robust vocals. She also has written, produced, sang and arranged virtually all of her songs since her 1980 release Irons in the Fire. She has quoted this as being her favorite album.
Marie grew up in west Los Angeles in a neighborhood that was nicknamed "Venice Harlem" because of its heavy black population. The singer/songwriter/producer was in her early twenties when, around 1977, she landed a job at Motown Records. It was at Motown that she met her mentor and paramour-to-be, Rick James, who ended up doing all of the writing and producing for her debut album of 1979, Wild and Peaceful. That LP, which boasted her hit duet with James, "I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love," didn't show Marie's picture -- so many programmers at black radio just assumed she was black. When her second album, Lady T, came out, much of the R&B world was shocked to see how fair-skinned she was. But to many of the black R&B fans who were eating her music up, it really didn't matter -- the bottom line was she was a first-rate soul singer whose love of black culture ran deep.
After It Must Be Magic (which included the major hit "Square Biz") she left Motown Records, and a nasty legal battle began. Marie got out of her contract with Motown, and the case ended up with the courts passing what is known as "The Teena Marie Law"(formally called Brockert Initiative) -- which states that a label cannot keep an artist under contract without putting out an album by him or her.
After signing with Motown Records in 1976 as a backup singer, Smokey Robinson devotee Teena hooked up with James for her first album titled Wild and Peaceful, released in 1979. Legend has had it that thanks to James' refusal to work with Diana Ross (because he wasn't allowed to pursue her entire album) that he began working with Teena. Teena Marie found her first successes with the songs "I'm A Sucker For Your Love" and "Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)."
After James' initial guidance, Teena Marie opened the 1980s by producing two hit albums. Lady T, co-produced by Richard Rudolph (Minnie Riperton's husband and creative partner), featured the hit R&B single "Behind the Groove" (#21 R&B) and "Too Many Colors," which featured Rudolph and Riperton's 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph. Its follow-up, Irons in the Fire, contained her first pop hit, "I Need Your Lovin'"(#9 R&B, #37 Pop) and "Young Love"(#41 R&B). In 1981, she released her best-selling album on Motown, the gold It Must Be Magic. It yielded the hit songs, "Square Biz" written by Teena Marie and Allen McGrier, "Portuguese Love", a song in tribute to her Portuguese ancestry, and the title track. That same year, she also appeared on James' hugely successful album, Street Songs, where they scored a huge hit with their duet, "Fire And Desire."
Success, however, did not mean Teena Marie was satisfied professionally or was stable financially. Upon discovering she had been underpaid royalties for the four albums she recorded for Motown, Teena Marie decided to leave the label and later sued it for having restricted her artistic control. A law was passed as a result, The Brockert Initiative, popularly known as "The Teena Marie Law", which set a precedent for artists seeking control of their careers by limiting the length of recording contracts.
After leaving in 1982, she signed with Epic Records in 1983 and released the concept album Robbery, which featured the hit "Fix It" (#21 R&B), as well as "Shadow Boxing" and "Casanova Brown." The latter was allegedly about her real-life romance with mentor Rick James. In 1984, Teena Marie released her biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded the singles "Lovergirl" and "Out On A Limb". "Lovergirl" became Teena Marie's highest peaking single to date on pop charts, peaking at #4, while peaking at #9 on the R&B charts. "Out On A Limb" was not as successful as "Lovergirl" on the R&B Charts, peaking only at #56. Also in 1985 '14k' (R&B #87) was featured on the soundtrack of the film 'Goonies'.
In 1986, Teena Marie released a rock and roll concept album titled Emerald City. It wasn't as successful as her predecessors and in 1988 she returned to her R&B and funk roots releasing the critically-acclaimed album, Naked to the World. That album contained the hit "Ooo La La La", which reached the top of Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and remains her only #1 single on that chart to date.
Teena Marie released "Ivory" in the fall of 1990. Despite the success of the first two singles, "Here's Looking at You" (#11 R&B) and "If I Were a Bell" (#8 R&B), Epic Records was not totally pleased with sales of the album. So Teena and Epic Records mutually agreed to go their separate ways. In the fall of 1994, Teena released "Passion Play", on her own independent label, and subsequently devoted most of her time to her daughter, Alia Rose.
During the 1990s, Marie's classic R&B, soul and funk records were either sampled by hip-hop artists or covered by R&B divas. Teena Marie herself is seen as something of a pioneer in helping to bring hip-hop to the mainstream by becoming one of the first and only artists of her time to rap on one of her singles--the aforementioned "Square Biz". In the rap portion of that song, she mentions some of her inspirations: William Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, "just to name a few," as she says. In 1996, The Fugees paid tribute to her by sampling the chorus of her 1988 hit "Ooo La La La" for their own hit, "Fu-Gee-La."
After a 14-year sabbatical from the national spotlight, Teena Marie returned to her musical career by signing with the "Classics" imprint of the successful hip-hop label Cash Money Records. She released her comeback album, La Dona, in 2004. It became a gold success (and the highest charting album of her career, peaking at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart) on the basis of the Al Green-sampled "Still In Love" (#23 R&B, #70 Pop) and a duet with the late Gerald Levert, "A Rose By Any Other Name". Teena Marie was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for "Still In Love". Teena quickly followed this success with the release of Sapphire in 2006. While sales weren't as great this time around (the album peaked at #24 on the Pop Chart), the release did give Teena Marie yet another R&B Top 40 hit, "Ooh Wee" (#32); it also reunited her (on "God Has Created" and "Cruise Control") with Robinson, the early Motown mentor whose style she had emulated on early hits such as "Young Love."
Teena has recently decided to part ways with Cash Money records, and has a new album coming out in 2008 which she describes as "personal and spiritual".