“Never in my life,” said Rick James, “had I heard such a range with so much passion.”
- First hit: “I’m A Sucker For Your Love”
- Biggest hit: “Square Biz”
- Top album: It Must Be Magic
- Career highlight: Four Motown albums and a marriage of music to Rick James which elevated the talents of both
- The future Teena Marie is born Mary Christine (Tina) Brockert on March 5, 1956, in Santa Monica, California. Later estranged from her mother, she moves in with Berry Gordy’s brother, Fuller, and his partner Winnie Jones, and auditions for a Motown TV project. This fails to reach the screen, but Teena signs to the record company in 1976 as part of a group, Entourage. Producer Hal Davis teams her with singer Ronnie McNeir, but there are no commercial sparks until she connects with Rick James, riding high at Motown with his Come Get It! album.
- The sales of Wild and Peaceful encourage Motown to enlist producer Richard Rudolph for its follow-up, Lady T. She co-produces the album with Rudolph and co-writes most of it, including “Behind The Groove,” another R&B hit. Lady T outcharts Teena’s debut, enabling her to take complete charge of her next, Irons In The Fire. Its lead track, “I Need Your Lovin’,” becomes an R&B Top 10 entry, a Top 40 crossover hit – and an instant signature song for the budding star. Her backing band is Ozone, also signed with Motown.
- Teena again produces herself on It Must Be Magic, an album brimming with classics, including the hit “Square Biz” and “Portuguese Love.” She appears simultaneously on Rick James’s smash album Street Songs, on a lengthy slow jam duet, “Fire And Desire,” that becomes a centerpiece of their tour together in the summer of ’81.
- Teena’s time at Motown helps the girl make good, although it ends with litigation and a switch to Epic Records. Even then, she stays close to mentor Rick, cutting a duet with him on 1988’s Naked To The World, while also paying tribute to another of her heroes (“My Dear Mr. Gaye”) on Starchild – which also includes “We’ve Got To Stop Meeting Like This,” a duet with her first Motown mentor Ronnie McNeir. Rick re-appears with Teena on La Doña, her 2004 R&B-cum-hiphop album on Ca$h Money Classics, her best-seller since leaving Motown.
- RJ aside, Lady T maintains links with other citizens of the Motor City: Smokey Robinson, for example, who appears on her 2006 release, Sapphire. And two years before Teena’s untimely death the day after Christmas 2010, she is gracious about Motown’s founder. “No one ever understood me quite the way Mr. Gordy did,” she said. “People are, ‘Why aren’t you bitter?’ Bitter? I have a great life. Yeah, I lost a little money at first, but he has a lot of respect for me.”