Her songs were part of the DNA of both rap and anyone who grew up in the ’80s, she was powerful enough to hold down her end of a long musical relationship with a man no less freaky than Rick James, and she took a legendarily goofy guitar-pose photo. Teena Marie called herself the “Ivory Queen of Soul” and it was an honor no one disputed. She died at home yesterday in California, age 54, and we are sad to see her go. “At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your own soul,” she told Essence last year, and that was more or less the creed she lived by.
Berry Gordy famously kept Marie’s photo off her 1979 Motown debut, Wild and Peaceful, fearing that her potential audience would turn on her if they knew she was white. Ultimately, no one cared. (It has always been our opinion that Marie looked fly as hell on Wild and Peaceful‘s follow-up, Lady T, on which her face is front and center.) She sang “Lovergirl,” “Ooo La La La,” “Square Biz,” “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love,” “Deja Vu,” and smashed “Fire and Desire” with Rick James. After a bitter, court-aided divorce with Motown, she put out records on Epic, Sarai, Stax, and even the legendary rap label Cash Money. Her career was a lesson in subversion and singing one’s ass off, and there are worse things you could do today than spend some time listening to her.