Mary Christine Brockert, better known by her stage name Teena Marie, (March 5, 1956 – December 26, 2010) was an American singer, songwriter and producer. Marie, nicknamed Lady Tee (sometimes spelled Lady T), was a protégée of funk artist Rick James. She played rhythm guitar, keyboards and congas. She also wrote, produced, sang and arranged virtually all of her songs since her 1980 release, Irons in the Fire, which she later said was her favorite album. She has a daughter, Alia Rose, who, as of 2009, sang under the name Rose LeBeau.
Marie had a strong African-American influence from her godmother. The Santa Monica, California native grew up in the historically African-American enclave of Oakwood, a neighborhood of Venice in westside Los Angeles. Raised on Motown music, and singing Harry Belafonte's songs by age 2, Marie’s self-professed “Gift from God” would become fine-tuned as the years progressed. Teena Marie described her ethnic heritage as Portuguese, Italian, Irish and American Indian.
As a child, she had an acting role on The Beverly Hillbillies, credited as Tina Marie Brockert. She also sang at the wedding of actor Jerry Lewis' son when she was 10 years old.
Marie worked briefly at Mar Vista's Pup 'n' Taco in the mid 1970s while attending Venice High School, where she joined the Summer Dance Production, and also had a role in the school's production of The Music Man.
Marie signed with Motown Records in 1976, having gained an introduction to staff producer Hal Davis (best known for his work with Brenda Holloway and the Jackson 5) and then auditioned (with her then-band) for label boss Berry Gordy. She recorded unreleased material with a number of different producers, but was then spotted by Rick James, and guitarist Paul C Saenz, who effectively became her mentors. (Some of the earlier unreleased material has since been made available on compilation.) Her debut album release, Wild and Peaceful, was originally conceived as a project to be produced by James for Diana Ross, but James decided to work with Marie. The album was, at one point, due to be credited to "Tina Tryson", but ultimately was put out under Teena Marie. It scored Marie her first top-ten R&B hit, "I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love" (#8 Black Singles Chart), a duet with James. Neither the album nor its packaging had her picture on it, and many radio programmers incorrectly assumed Marie was African American during the earliest months of her career. This myth was disproved when she performed her debut hit with James on Soul Train in 1979. In 1980, her second album, Lady T, would have her portrait on the cover upon its release.
Marie's second album, Lady T, is noted for having production from Richard Rudolph (husband of R&B singer Minnie Riperton, who died a year earlier). Marie had asked Berry Gordy to contact Rudolph and secure his input as Rick James was unavailable and she felt unprepared to be sole producer of her own material. Rudolph intended for the song he penned, "Now That I Have You", to be sung by his wife, but it was later given to Marie. Rudolph also co-composed the single "Behind The Groove", which reached number 21 on the black singles chart and reaching #6 on the U.K. singles chart in 1980. The song would also be included on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Fever 105 soundtrack. Another notable track, "Too Many Colors," featured Rudolph and Riperton's then 7-year-old daughter, Maya Rudolph, who became Teena Marie's god-daughter.
Also in 1980, Marie released her third LP, Irons in The Fire, for which she handled all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band and all backing vocals. The single "I Need Your Lovin'" (#37 Pop, #9 Black Singles) brought Marie her first top 40 hit. This single also peaked at #28 in the UK chart. That same year, Teena Marie appeared on James' hugely successful album, Street Songs, with the duet "Fire and Desire". The two would perform the single at the 2004 BET Awards, which would be their last TV appearance with one another as Rick James died later that year.
Marie continued her success with Motown in 1981, with the release of It Must Be Magic (#2 Black Albums Chart), her first gold record, which included her then biggest hit on R&B, "Square Biz" (#3 Black Singles). Other notable tracks include "Portuguese Love" (featuring a brief, uncredited cameo by James, #54 Black Singles), the title track "It Must be Magic" (#30 Black Singles), and album only track "Yes Indeed", which Marie cited as a personal favorite.
In 1982, Marie got into a heated legal battle with Motown Records over her contract and disagreements about releasing her new material. The lawsuit resulted in "The Brockert Initiative", which made it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. In such instances, artists are able to sign and release with another label instead of being held back by an unsupportive one. Teena Marie commented on the law in an LA Times article, saying, "It wasn't something I set out to do. I just wanted to get away from Motown and have a good life. But it helped a lot of people, like Luther Vandross and the Mary Jane Girls, and a lot of different artists, to be able to get out of their contracts."
After leaving Motown in 1982, Marie 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 one of a number of tracks Marie would write over the years about her real-life romance with one-time mentor Rick James. The relationship had ended by that point, but the two would continue a sometimes tempestuous friendship, until James' death in August 2004. In 1984, Marie released her biggest-selling album, Starchild. It yielded her biggest hit "Lovergirl", which peaked at #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1985. It also peaked at #9 on the R&B chart. The label also released the moderate R&B hit "Out on a Limb", which peaked at #56 on the R&B chart, but didn't break the Hot 100. "14k" was featured on the soundtrack of the film Goonies (1985) but was not a hit (only making the U.S. R&B charts at #87).
In 1986, Marie released a rock music-influenced concept album titled Emerald City. It was controversial with her established fan base and not as successful as its predecessors. She also recorded another rock-influenced track, "Lead Me On", co-produced by Giorgio Moroder, for the soundtrack of the box office hit film, Top Gun (1986). In 1988, however, 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. During her 1988 Naked to the World concert tour, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized for six months.
Marie released Ivory in the fall of 1990 and it scored no pop hits, but it did experienced two R&B hits: "Here's Looking at You" (#11 R&B) and "If I Were a Bell" (#8 R&B). Epic Records, however, was not totally pleased with the overall sales of the album, and parted ways with Marie.
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. Marie herself is regarded as something of a pioneer in helping to bring hip-hop to the mainstream by becoming one of the first artists of her time to rap one of her singles—the aforementioned "Square Biz". In the hip-hop portion of that song, she mentions some of her inspirations: Sarah Vaughn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni, "just to name a few". In 1996, the Fugees paid tribute to her by interpolating the chorus of her 1988 hit, "Ooo, La, La, La", into its own "Fu-Gee-La", which was a huge hit.
In the fall of 1994, Marie released Passion Play on her independent label, Sarai Records. Lacking the backing of a major label, this album sold less well than her earlier work, but was well received by fans.
Subsequently, Marie devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose (who has since adopted the stage name "Rose Le Beau" and is pursuing her own singing career). During the late 1990s, Marie made appearances (as herself) on the TV sitcoms, The Steve Harvey Show and The Parkers. She also began work on a new album, titled Black Rain. She was unable to secure a major label deal for this, and did not want to put it out on her own Sarai label in light of the modest sales of Passion Play. However, a version pressed for promotional purposes was widely bootlegged among fans. This contained the tracks, "The Mackin' Game", "I'll Take the Pressure", "Baby, I'm Your Fiend", "My Body's Hungry", "Ecstasy", "I'm on Fire", "Watcha Got 4 Me", "Black Rain", "1999", "Butterflies", "Spanish Harlem", "Blackberry Playa", "The Perfect Feeling", and "Rainbow Outro". Some of these tracks resurfaced on the later albums: La Doña, Sapphire, and Congo Square; in some cases (e.g. "The Mackin Game") in significantly reworked versions.
After a 14-year sabbatical from the national spotlight, Marie returned to her musical career by signing with the Classics sub-label of the successful hip-hop label, Cash Money Records. She released her comeback album, La Doña, in 2004, and follow up Sapphire, in 2006. La Doña became a gold-certified 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 "I'm Still In Love" (#23 R&B, #70 Pop) and a duet with the late Gerald Levert, "A Rose by Any Other Name". Marie was nominated for a 2005 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Still in Love". Marie quickly followed this success with the release of Sapphire in 2006. While sales were not as great this time around (the album peaked at #24 on the Pop Chart), the release did give Marie yet another R&B Top-40 hit, "Ooh Wee" (#32); it also reunited her (on "God Has Created" and "Cruise Control") with Smokey Robinson, the early Motown mentor whose style she had emulated on early hits such as "Young Love". Marie parted ways with Ca$h Money records after the release of Sapphire.
On September 19, 2008, Marie performed in concert at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. Marie took this time to play a couple of finished tracks from her upcoming album, Congo Square, and she received a positive response from the crowd. Congo Square was released on June 9, 2009 on Stax/Concord Records. She has described the album as "personal and spiritual" and indicated that it was more jazz-influenced than most of her previous work. "Can't Last a Day", a duet with Faith Evans, leaked to the Internet in March 2009. Teena Marie says of Evans, "It was after I had recorded the song ("Can't Last a Day") I got the idea to put Faith on it. I’ve always loved Faith and her vocal style. She reminds me of me. Her correlation with Biggie — having a career with him and without him — reminds me of me and Rick. I feel like she’s a younger me. Of the younger ladies, she’s the one I love most.”
Meanwhile, with regard to her early-life inspirations for Congo Square, in January 2010 Marie told Lee Tyler, editor of the award-winning Blues & Soul magazine: "I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. 'The Pressure' is dedicated to Rick James; 'Can't Last a Day' is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound - the Philly International sound'. Then 'Baby I Love You' and 'Ear Candy' are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield - with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While 'Miss Coretta' is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King."
Sales-wise, the album proved another success, reaching the Top 20 on Billboard's Top 200, and giving Teena Marie yet another Top 10 R&B chart entry. In 2010, Marie continued to be a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip, appearing regularly at the Las Vegas Hilton and other venues until just before her death.
On the afternoon of December 26, 2010, Marie was found unconscious by her daughter Alia Rose at her home in Pasadena, California. As of December 28, an autopsy had been scheduled to determine cause of death. No foul play was suspected.
Artists including Q-Tip, Questlove, Danny Tenaglia, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, Sheila E, Lil Wayne,P!nk, Snoop Dogg, Lalah Hathaway, Mary J. Blige, Jazmine Sullivan, Amerie, Ashanti and Nelly took to Twitter to post their remembrances and tributes. Lenny Kravitz posted an emotional video in which he revealed that Marie had taken him into her home and helped him when he was struggling early in his career.