R.I.P. Teena Marie 

March 5, 1956 – December 26, 2010

 

She was born Mary Christine Brockert in Oakland, California, so steeped in African American musical traditions that when her cut “Behind the Groove” was released, I, too, bought into the myth that Teena Marie was Black.  But behind all the monikers such as “Ivory Queen of Soul,” Teena Marie was a musical force to be reckoned with.

Not only a singer, but also a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and producer, Lady T rocked our world with memorable songs such as “Lover Girl” and “I Need Your Lovin'”; rapped her “sass “off and introduced a new generation to Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni in “Square Biz”; enchanted us with the sublime lyrics of “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “Casanova Brown”; and left us in rhapsody with the sultry ballad “Portuguese Love.”

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of listening to the extended version of “Portuguese Love,” I implore you to do so, and to bring your dancing shoes and ready your samba hips for the song’s Brazilian-jazz finale.  Aiii-AIIII!!!

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My most memorable Teena Marie moment happened at Nassau Coliseum in 1982.  She joined Dr. “Super Freak” himself, Rick James, onstage for a searing, intimate performance of “Fire and Desire.”  Because I had left my opera glasses at home, I couldn’t see much.  I’ll put it to you this way:  Teena Marie looked like an explosion of blond curls above a cinnamon-brown minidress as small as Pebbles Flintstone’s, and Rick James resembled a box-braided version of Cousin It complete with glittery bulge.  Hot damn, were they a sexy pair!  I wouldn’t be surprised if their duet at the Long Island stadium that night was responsible for doubling the Black and Latino population of the hamlet of Uniondale.

Teena Marie’s last recorded CD was Congo Square.  In the last interview I saw of her on cable television, the artist appeared so happy and optimistic to be touring in promotion of Congo Square.

Missing you dearly, Lady T … Blow a kiss to soulmate R.J. in heaven.

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Toward the finale of “A Very BET Christmas” last night, I was reminded why my senses were left fluttering upon my first listen to Marsha Ambrosius‘ ascending the scale in Floetry’s rendition of  “Butterflies,” written by Ambrosius and covered by Michael Jackson.  My spirit is still shimmering from Ambrosius’ angelic performance of “Christmastime Is Here” on the BET holiday special.

“Christmastime Is Here,” for the younguns among you, is a song written by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi that was performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio in the evergreen Peanuts holiday TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Listening to Marsha Ambrosius render “Christmastime Is Here,” with no children’s choir within range of a snowball fight, the song’s magic still managed to transport me to a wondrous state.  Like an enchanted sleigh that can morph its dimensions to ride up and down a spiraling snow-coated mountain, Ambrosius performed deft maneuvers with her voice that left me all goosepimples.  When she sang “Sleigh bells in the air,” trilling in soprano on the last word, she captured the emotional essence of the holiday season.

Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart were amazing as Floetry.  Now, I can’t wait for Ambrosius’ new solo CD, Late Nights & Early Mornings (J Records), which is due out in January.  Thus far, I’ve heard only one song, “Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player),” and already I’m sold.  Not only does her voice sound as lush as her surname, but also she knows how to drop an internal rhyme like an insidious slight.

Any songwriter who has the audacity to use Kim Kardashian’s name as a run-of-the-mill action verb in a lyric, as if she plucked the reality TV star out of an underused thesaurus, is worthy of a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.  That “Hope She Cheats on You” is based on a real-life, once-upon-a-time fiery tale makes the multiple metaphors in the lyric “Kim Kardashianed her way up” especially searing.  My favorite symbolism in that lyric, and by no means a sexy image, is the broken-home metaphor branded into Kim Kardashian’s household name.  Curvaceous in physical form and in aural delivery, Ambrosius can turn heads and a phrase sharper than kittenish Kardashian can pivot on stilettos.

The BET Christmas show on December 12 also sparkled with Keri Hilson’s lovely version of “The Christmas Song” (written by Mel Tormé and popularized by Nat “King” Cole) and Ne-Yo’s eggnog-warm vocals on “This Christmas.”  For me, no one but Donny Hathaway (the song’s co-composer) sounds absolutely perfect on “This Christmas.”  Still, Ne-Yo put his own Gen X groove on the soulful carol, right down to his moving, gospel-tinged ad-libs.  Suffice it to say, the brotha’s baaad!   For this music-lover, Ne-Yo conjured up Donell Jones with his inspired tenor — or maybe it’s the ubiquitous, übercool fedora.

The only disappointment on “A Very BET Christmas” (and it pains me to say this because he gave me one heck of an interview back in 1992, the year of his phenomenal solo CD, In the Storm) was Eldra DeBarge.  Po’ lil El just kept on struggling to tread water in the wake left by the powerhouse singers who had preceded him (for instance, Jazmine Sullivan — hello?).  As DeBarge croaked out notes at the beginning of “Silent Night,” his frail performance was abruptly interrupted by the beginning credits of Soul Food and its theme song by Boyz II Men.  Maybe not a silent night but, for El DeBarge, a silenced one.

For those of you who missed last night’s broadcast of “A Very BET Christmas,” you can catch the show Wednesday night.  Check your local listings for the time.


 

Copyright © 2010 By Chantale Reve