march 2011


The Ivory Queen of Soul at Her Very Best

A new retrospective puts the late Teena Marie in perspective

Teena Marie passed away on December 26, 2010, at the very moment it seemed the 54-year-old Ivory Queen of Soul was on the verge of reclaiming her throne. In 2009, recording for Stax/Concord Records, she had released the jazz-influenced Congo Square album and impressed everyone with its depth, passion, intelligence and pure, unadulterated joyous vibe. “I wanted a record that people could just put on, just like how we used to do it y'know,” she told an interviewer. “You just put it on, it's summertime--you can just play the whole thing and just have fun and just party.”

In our January issue, paid tribute to Ms. Marie’s stellar career. Now the good folks at Epic/Legacy have put a fine point on it with a first-rate package from the label’s Playlist series, The Very Best of Teena Marie. Drawn mostly from Ms. Marie’s association with the Epic label in the 1980s (save for a track from 1990’s acclaimed Congo Square—“Can’t Last a Day,” a sultry duet with Faith Evans—and the title track from her 1980 Gordy album, Irons In the Fire), the disc’s 14 tracks show off everything that was special about Teena Marie: all but two of the numbers bear only her songwriting credit, and the others are co-writes; on many of the tracks she is credited as an arranger; her skill on the guitar, well documented before she got to Epic, is obvious; and of course, above all else, are the plaintive, soulful, gospel-inflected cries of her singing voice and her adroit, telling way with a phrase. For someone who could sing with such power, her subtlety in shading a lyric for the precise emotional effect necessary for added dimension could be genuinely startling. This month’s Video File salutes the Teena Marie heard on The Very Best of Teena Marie. All of the videos are of songs included on the CD, with a couple of live performances featured as a reminder of the force she could be when you let her loose on stage. Sweet memories. Behold…

One of Teena’s final interviews, October 9, 2010, at the Sheryl Lee Ralph AIDS Fundraiser, ‘Divas Simply Singing.’

Teena Marie in the studio with Faith Evans recording their duet ‘Can’t Last a Day,’ written by Teena for her adventurous Congo Square album (2009)

‘My Dear Mr. Gaye’--Teena Marie and Marvin Gaye shared a special, deep friendship, and Teena was Godmother to Gaye’s daughter Nona. On her 1984 Starchild album, Teena wrote this sumptuous, yearning love song to Mr. Gaye, who had died on April 1 of that year. Strings arranged and conducted by Gene Barge.

Teena Marie on Soul Train, with her 1988 hit single “Ooo LaLaLa,’ from her album Naked To The World (released in 1987). The song’s hook was appropriated by the Fugees for ‘Fu Gee La’

Where there’s smoke there’s fire: Teena and one of her favorite duet partners (and musical mentor), Rick James, lend grandeur to unbridled desire in their heated discourse on Teena’s ‘The Once and Future Dream,’ from her 1987 album Naked To The World.

Roiling emotions fueled equally by fevered desire and the attendant insecurities of all-consuming passion drive Teena’s pleading, soulful declaiming on her 1985 single, ‘Out On a Limb,” from the 1984 album Starchild.

All-out soul testifying with a gospel flavor in a moving live performance of her #8 charting 1990 single, “If I Were a Bell,” one of her most memorable original songs, from her Ivory album.

Miss Teena wrecks the house during Showtime at the Apollo when she brings the crowd to its feet on a rousing version of her classic 1984 single, ‘Lovergirl,’ from the Starchild album.

The Very Best of Teena Marie is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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