Her parents named her Mary Brockert - born March 5, 1956 - and her mentor, the one and only Rick James, nicknamed her Lady T. The rest of us knew her as Teena Marie, and for three decades, she threw down funk and rich R&B grooves on an array of enchanting albums as a performer people wanted to hear and see, and an influence younger artists held up as an example of who they wanted to be.
Remarkably, though, there are some who have never heard Teena Marie’s music, perhaps needing a quick tour through her best material and performances to get up to speed. If at some point you need to name five songs to explain Teena Marie to someone like that, here are the ones we recommend:
"I Need Your Lovin'" (1980)
Her first Top 40 hit is also one of her best – who wouldn’t want to be introduced to audiences with a thumping groove like this record delivers?
“Fire and Desire” (with Rick James, 1981)
This slow jam comes right after “Super Freak” on Side 2 of Rick James’ classic album Street Songs; it takes the wild, sexy energy of the lead cut and stretches it to seven languid minutes. James and the woman he dubbed “Lady T.” call and respond and generate serious heat (thus the song’s title), never letting up until Marie’s final wordless vocal just before the fadeout. It’s exquisite stuff.
“Square Biz” (1981)
“Everybody get up!” Marie shouts at the opening of this horn-spiked classic from 1981. It hails from her album It Must Be Magic - her first gold record.
This one had speakers rattling and roller rinks and dance floors bumping in late 1984 and early 1985. It was her biggest hit, topping out at No. 4.
“Ooo La La La" (1988)
“I have to pinch myself to be sure / That this love is more than I can endure,” Marie sings of an overwhelming relationship – emotional, yes, but also spiritual and carnal, all of it simultaneously. It’s also got a great chorus, one you’ll recognize if you’ve ever heard the Fugees’ classic album The Score – the chorus of “Fu-Gee-La” borrows liberally from Marie’s classic.
And, as a bonus, here’s the Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La”: