Teena Marie
My track of the day by Teena Marie was long overdue some examination. Supremely underrated in her time, except by black audiences, and still completely underrated in the grand scope of music. This California born white girl stunned most who heard her the first time by having a voice belying her background and most importantly the talent to match, or beat, any artist regardless of their sex and color, in whatever style she chose to tackle. This period I’ll cover quickly held, in this author’s opinion, quite possibly one of the best electro-pop or modern R&B releases you’ll ever hear, Robbery. A release completely driven and produced by Teena’s unique vision and a release that in a big way informs my pick for album of the month tomorrow. But before we even get there I’ve got to cover what drove her to get to that point.
To put it succinctly, by the time of “Behind the Groove”‘s release, Teena was struggling to find confidence in her own compositions. Mary Christine Brockert was discovered by Berry Gordy, the head of Motown records, originally auditioning for a role in the Beverly Hillbillies, he was floored by this young 10 year old voice. How did such a young girl have such a soulful voice? She was born to Portuguese and Irish Roman Catholic parents, from a young age she learned piano from nuns and at home would secretly teach herself to play percussion and guitar. Her early years were lived in Oakwood, California the “Venice Harlem” where she would have her first influences inculcated in her which were soul and R&B.
Wild and Peaceful album cover.

Originally, Berry didn’t know what to do with this signee, at first he would get her to record countless unreleased songs under different names or different styles hoping that something marketable would stick. Sometime in 1976, Rick James heard her sound and was wowed by this young 20-year old. He offered to produce her first album. This brilliant album Wild and Peaceful was originally supposed to be released under the name Teena Tryson, as a way to slyly sneak in the R&B market. Mary, instead chose the stage name Teena Marie, combining her nickname and firstname. The album yielded the massive urban radio hit of “I’m a Sucker for Your Love“, a hit that entirely surprised people at first. Most people assumed she was a Black artist, her album cover purposely didn’t show her image, it wasn’t until you flipped to the other side you’d see she was this young woman. You can imagine how many people flipped when they first saw her perform in living color on Soul Train.


Lady T album cover.

Before the recording of her next album, Lady T, Teena was having problems recording new material. Somewhere after the success of Wild and Peaceful, she had lost confidence in her own voice and vision. She didn’t feel comfortable enough to produce anything and Rick James was too busy doing something else to help her out again. The only person she could confide in was the recently widowed husband of Minnie Riperton, Richard Rudolph. Minnie was Teena’s biggest influence. Rightfully so, no other female soul artist had displayed quite the variety and originality as Minnie had by then. Together with Richard they had found a way to transcend where people expected Minnie’s unique talents to gravitate to. 

“Behind the Groove” single.

With Richard in hand, Teena took the first step towards launching herself as her own producer, arranger and artist. Simply listen to the co-produced track “Behind the Groove”. Playing nearly all the parts herself, Teena creates a slice of post-disco that still sounds far ahead of its time. The rest of the album itself holds great original takes on modern R&B that owe a lot to the first strains of hybrid soul that Minnie Riperton created. However, by the end of this album the “Ivory Queen of Soul” was born and her next album she’d have the full confidence to do everything herself. As you can see from the confident classy visage of Teena gracing Lady T, she would do things her way from now on. I’ll come back to her soon enough, but for now check out some of the magic that Richard Rudolph and Teena Marie captured in Minnie’s memory, during this time, there’s something about Minnie’s memory that keeps calling us back…

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Listen to Behind the Groove at Grooveshark.

bonus track time, from Lady T originally written for Minnie before she passed away, the beautiful tropical-tinged “Now That I Have You”…

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Listen to Now That I Have You at Grooveshark.

and go back in time, with the stone-cold funk classic “I’m a Sucker for Your Love”…

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Listen to I’m a Sucker for Your Love at Grooveshark.