R&B great Teena Marie died over the weekend, but her enduring legacy can be found in the legions of soul stars who followed in her footsteps.
Marie joined the iconic Motown label in the late ’70s and spent the next three decades building a reputation as a Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist with a gift for penning lyrics and belting with soulful abandon. Her influence — from her top-flight musicianship to her pioneering image as a white, female R&B artist — can be found in many of today’s hitmakers.
Mary J. Blige
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has pointed to Marie as an early influence when the budding superstar was coming up in her scrappy Yonkers, New York, neighborhood. “Tina Mari inspired me vocally as a child. Her songs I sang in the mirror with a hair brush. I’m so hurt,” she tweeted on Sunday. “I’ll love u forever Tina Mari. Portuguese Love, Casanova Brown, Square Biz, I need your lovin, all of your music will live forever through me. In my heart she’s Tina, So rest in peace Tina, i love u. Every girl that grew up in the hood , with her blasting through the windows, Cars and radio waves can Feel me.”
Like Marie, former Bad Boy singer Faith Evans boasts a bold voice and had a headline-making relationship with a labelmate and music icon. Marie hooked up with Motown funk architect Rick James early in her career and would go on to spark a romance with the R&B great. James also served as a mentor to Marie, and the two teamed up for memorable collaborations such as James’ Street Songs jam “Fire and Desire.” In addition to churning out soulful hits with Bad Boy, Evans is known for marrying Brooklyn MC Notorious B.I.G. soon after meeting her charismatic labelmate. Marie even commented on the similarities between the two vocalists in the bio for the soul legend’s 2009 album, Congo Square, which featured their collabo “Can’t Last a Day.”
“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,” she said. “I feel like she’s a younger me. Of the younger ladies, she’s the one I love most.”
Marie was also a masterful musician, often manning everything from the keyboards to guitar on her albums and heading behind the boards as a producer. She helped establish a blueprint for female R&B stars who are actively involved in various aspects of the production process, such as pianist and producer Alicia Keys, who tweeted after Marie’s death, “God bless Teena Marie & her Family!Sending Blessings &prayers I was jus sayin tht fire & desire is 1 of the most beautifully performd songs!”
Marie’s race was somewhat controversial when she first debuted on Motown as a white woman belting soul-stirring R&B. Her picture was left off the album packaging her first LP, and many fans assumed Lady T was another new black artist making her mark in the R&B scene. However, she was ultimately accepted because of her undeniable talent and conviction in her voice. She has paved the way for many contemporary artists such as Joss Stone and Pink, who initially hit the scene with an R&B-tinged sound. After hearing of Marie’s death, Pink re-tweeted a missive from Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine that read, “THIS SUCKS– heard that Teena Marie passed away. RIP. she was an original and one of a kind. sad.”
As Marie told Essence in 2009, “I’m a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your own soul.”
While she made her name as a soul veteran, Marie’s music has popped up in hip-hop cuts from many of the game’s finest lyricists. Marie’s 1981 jam “Square Biz” was revamped for rap supergroup the Firm’s (Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, Nature, Cormega) 1997 single “Firm Biz,” and Mase reworked the track’s jocular bass line for the Harlem World album cut “Love U So.” The chorus for the Fugees’ 1996 smash “Fu-Gee-La” features similar crooning to Marie’s hit “Ooo La La La” from the 1988 album Naked to the World.
Where else do you see Teena Marie’s influence? Let us know in the comments.