I woke up from a long nap and looked at my cell phone for messages. There was a text from my cousin Dina, “Teena Marie died.” I scrolled to my Twitter to check LoveSamanthaG. I saw her tweet and clicked on the link to her blog post. It was true Teena Marie had left us.
I knew why Dina had told me, the summer of Square Biz. Every summer we had a song and 1981 was Teena’s year. Square Biz was a fun, cocky tune. One of the first in a trend of adding a rap to into a regular song. Lady T laid it out. She wasn’t afraid to be a white woman in an R&B world and we embraced it.
That summer will be remembered for our infamous trip, in which my parents, grandma, Dina, my younger cousin Eric and I stuffed ourselves into a car to drive to Ocean City, onto Atlantic City and back to DC. Begging the question, how did we all fit in that Volvo. Our soundtrack was a mix tape my uncle Furman (the man with all the latest music) had made for my dad, one side of which was a mix of Teena Marie’s It Must Be Magic and Rick James’s Street Songs albums. A match made in music heaven. Those were the days young kids could sing along to a song like Super Freak and not really know what it meant. But we knew enough not to ask.
In 1985, Teena crossed over with the hit Lovergirl. I had crossed over myself to pop and rock music, screaming with the rest of the teen girls at Duran Duran. Now Teena and I were back together again and all of the US was finding out what the black community already new. This white girl could sing.
As the years went by, Teena was still a regular in our house until she went off the radar for awhile.
When I started working with my dad in his art and framing shop in 2004, Teena’s La Dona CD appeared. She was one of my dad’s favorite female singers. Still In Love summed it up. Her sound hadn’t changed but instead of sounding dated it made you say “they don’t make music like that anymore.” A Rose By Any Other Name”, her duet with Gerald LeVert (another one of my dad’s favorite singers) was a treat to my dad. Our music selection was key to my dad and I’s work productivity and Teena moved us along.
The morning after Teena Marie’s death, I played her music on the drive to work. Dina had become the queen of R&B greatest hits CDs and I had long ago borrowed Teena’s to add to my iPod. I had never known much about the details of her career other than her relationship with Rick James. I hadn’t known she had written all her songs. As great as I thought she was, I’ve grown to have a deeper appreciation of her talent. I’m always amazed by the impact an artist and their music can have on me. Teena’s music brought joy and great memories to my life. Teena, girl, you will be missed. I hope you’re somewhere singing a song to my dad.