By Roland S. Martin
Teena Marie, who dazzled R&B audiences for years with her soulful voice and powerful, high-energy stage performances, died Sunday at her home in California.
Mike Gardner, Marie’s manager, told me that Marie died after her 18-year-old daughter, Alia Rose Brockert was unable to wake her in her bed (Marie was born Mary Christine Brockert in Santa Monica, California).
No cause of death for the 54-year-old four-time Grammy Award nominee has been released pending an autopsy by the coroner’s office, Gardner said.
Lynn Jeter, Marie’s publicist, said a month ago, the singer suffered a grand mal seizure.
“Her and her little girl were watching a movie,” Jeter said. “(Alia Rose) was in the bed with her. Luckily someone was there. They called 9-1-1. The ambulance took her to the hospital. On the way, she had another seizure.”
Jeter said Marie couldn’t get an appointment with a neurologist for nearly three weeks, and she was provided medication to handle the seizure. But Jeter said that the medicine prescribed “made her suicidal,” so Marie “reduced the meds herself.”
Neither Jeter nor Marie’s family would reveal to me what specific medication Marie was administered for the seizures.
Jeter said she and Marie talked at least once a week, and sine the seizure, twice a week.
Jeter said they had a “great” conversation yesterday, and Marie was excited about heading to Atlanta to perform this week, her first concert since suffering the seizure.
“She evidently died in her sleep and her daughter found her,” Jeter said.
News of Marie’s death initially spread across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. As different followers asked me about it, I brushed off the news because there were no official reports confirming the death.
Comedian Kym Whitley tweeted that Marie was in fact alive, so when I called her, she put me on a three-way call with Jeter.
Jeter said she tried to reach out to Marie today as the rumors of her death heated up online, but she was unable to do so. So she told me to call Gardner. When I dialed his cell and asked about Marie, he simply said, “It’s true.”
When I called Jeter back, she had gotten in touch with Marie’s home and described the scene there.
And once Marie’s death was confirmed, I reach out to many of her friends, associates and admirers in the entertainment world, who talked about her tremendous impact.
“A few months ago I saw her perform at a BET function in DC and I was sitting in the audience and was thinking to myself, ‘Where did the spirit of really finding joy in performing go?’ said singer/actor Tyrese.
“So many artists today, they get on stage and perform, and it’s like its just work and I’m here to get a check. She was up there sweating; they kept bringing her towels and water, she was just really doing her thing. She was on stage with the high heels and singing her life away. I just loved it. It was a breath of fresh air to be around somebody who, after so many years, still had a passion to be on stage for the love of music.”
Marie was known for a litany of hits such as “Square Biz,” “Lovergirl,” “Behind the Groove,” and “Out on A Limb.” Initially signed to Motown, Marie brought a soulful voice that shocked many when they discovered she was white. That love affair with black audiences was cemented with her duet with funk king Rick James on “Fire and Desire.”
Cindy Herron, a member of En Vogue, said: “It’s a loss for those who loves her music, but also the music world. She still had so much to offer.”
Last year, Teena Marie followed En Vogue at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, and Herron says she was “amazed because she’s such a showman.”
“She still had a great command of the audience; her musicianship and her singing ability. She still had so much to offer.”
Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, the largest black-owned radio company in the country, was shocked upon hearing of Marie’s death.
“Teena was a black voice trapped in a white body,” Hughes said. “I would always tell her that she was one of the greatest vocalists of our time.”
“I watched as she raised that child, and that’s very difficult being a single mother. She did an exemplary job with her child.”
As a testament to Marie’s love affair with African Americans, she is the only white artist to be featured as part of the “Unsung” music series on TV One, the black-focused lifestyles and entertainment owned by Radio One.
TV One will re-broadcast the Teena Marie “Unsung” special Monday at 9 p.m. EST and midnight EST.
Hughes said Marie was so appreciative to be showcased on Unsung alongside greats like Teddy Pendergrass, Minnie Riperton, Tammie Terrell, Rose Royce and Heatwave.
“Every time I saw her she would run up to me and thank me profusely,” Hughes said. “She would say, ‘I had no idea! I am so thankful that you would do me.
“Her daughter said to me, ‘My momma is so proud of that piece you did on her.’ I told her, ‘Your momma had made a lot of people proud.’”
Singer Lionel Richie told me that every time he would see Teena Marie, the two always engaged in a running joke about her DNA.
“Every time I would say, ‘we need a root check!’” said a laughing Richie.
“You look at somebody like her and you go, ‘I know I’m looking at her, but it’s not translating. She was an amazing, soulful person. She’s a phenomenon to me.”
Addressing the issue of seeing a white woman with a “black voice,” Richie cut right to the point: “You have to say it. She had all of the street vibes and all of the R&B vocals, and it just didn’t match up with what you’re looking at.
“But one thing is for sure, when she walked on that stage, you didn’t want to be up there with her! If there is a word called talent or talented, it was pouring out of her veins. She was an amazing phenomenon.
“There was Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle and Teena Marie. And you don’t want to go on stage with any of them. Those three you just don’t play with.
“You don’t want to mention black and white, but that’s exactly what you thought about. It was an absolute phenomena to me.”
Kevin Liles, former vice chairman of Warner Music Group and now manager of Trey Songz: “Teena was a fire and desire. She was everything. She was a special person.
“If u got a chance to know her – more than her voice – she was a kind person. She was a student of music. She was a gift to us from God, and being a Caucasian woman, the voice that came out of her had to be a gift. We’ll miss her and God rest her soul.”
Eddie Levert, founder of the O’Jays, said, “in terms of vocals, she was one of the blackest people I know.”
“She was one of the great R&B performers of our time. She was a great person; just a nice person,” Levert said. “And she loved to perform. She got along well with everyone; even the promoters love her. She is going to be sorely missed.
“There a lot of black people who swore by her and believed in her, as far as her music was concerned. She was a good mom, and to me, that is saying a lot.’’
Actress Holly Robinson Peete called me as she shopped in Target, trying to confirm the news of Marie’s death. When I told her it was true, she let out an audible gasp.
After gathering herself, she texted the following tribute: “My heart is broken. Teena Marie was an R&B Empress, a music pioneer, a brilliant songwriter/ producer with the most original powerhouse vocals ever. Nobody sang like Teena! But above all she was an exceptional human being, a humanitarian and an authentic friend who I will miss dearly. Rest With Angels Lady T.”
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