December 28, 2010

Among Boxed Talent, Teena Marie Was FREE, Ahead Of Her Time! <== That Is How You Define A TRAIL BLAZER! ♥ I Truly Enjoyed Reading. ♥

Hampton Roads
written by Jamesetta Walker
Tuesday December 28, 2010

History is almost always kinder than real time.

That thought came to mind Saturday as I spent the better part of 10 hours on the road, repeatedly playing two Teena Marie CDs – “Robbery” and “Emerald City.”

“Robbery” was hailed an instant R&B classic, with hits such as “Dear Lover” and “Cassanova Brown.” “Emerald City,” a decidedly rock album with much less of the soul balladry and less of the funk sound for which Teena had come to be known, was largely panned.

It’s a masterpiece, though, not only because of its cohesiveness in the arc of the story­telling of love found and lost but also because of the rousing and ebbing instrumentation.

In 1986, few seemed willing to accept it was OK for a pint-sized female soul singer to bang it out Jimi Hendrix-style and then close an album with melancholy jazz.

Chuck Eddy, in his 1991 book “Stairway to Hell,” named “Emerald City” the ninth best on his list of the 500 greatest heavy metal albums of all time. In 2010, the album sounds as current as anything just released.

The world just wasn’t ready for it coming from an artist who had come to be regarded as the Ivory Queen of Soul.

On Saturday as I drove, I wondered whether I had sufficiently conveyed in a story in June that, of the artists who take the stage these days at the annual Hampton Jazz Festival, few are oriented in the genre.

Yet festgoers could be sure Teena was thoroughly jazz at her core. Her years of adapting the styles of two of her icons – Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn – especially shine through in her “La Dona” and “Congo Square” albums.

During the drive, I told myself I should really thank my colleague who encouraged me to reach out one more time to Teena Marie’s camp in hopes of snagging an interview before her performance at the jazz fest.

What other female artist, for the past three decades, has written, arranged and produced all but two of her albums?

I thought that it’s such a shame that the greatest-hits crowd thinks of the Grammy-nominated artist only for the classics she began churning out in 1979 during her Motown years.

The hits include “I’m a Sucker for Your Love,” “Behind the Groove,” “Square Biz,” “I Need Your Lovin’,” “It Must Be Magic” and “Fire and Desire,” the epic duet with her mentor and punk-funk legend Rick James.

And it’s just not enough to bring up subsequent successes on the Epic label that included “Lovergirl,” “Out on a Limb,” “If I Were a Bell” and “Ooo La La La.”

I came home and checked my valuables case – the one that holds nothing but my complete catalog of the works by the woman born Mary Christine Brockert.

Only the truest fans know the world hasn’t heard most of her best work or been exposed to her reverential poetry or complex artwork. I thought about contacting her to suggest she do a few small-scale gigs in which she plays only the underground favorites – songs such as “Where’s California?,” “Sunny Skies,” “Shangri-la,” “Love Me Down Easy,” “You So Heavy,” “Black Rain,” “The Air I Breathe,” “Miracles Need Wings to Fly.”

Maybe throw in a few recent gems such as “Romantica,” “Congo Square” and “Baby Whose Is It?”

On Saturday, I thought a lot about her telling me how she chooses to do things her way, making the music she wants to make and not getting caught up in what image is popular at the moment.

That philosophy likely cost her commercial exposure that instead went to spotlight-seeking, camera-ready pop princesses and R&B vixens who weren’t confident their success could stand on the merits of their talent alone.

It was OK to her because among her 13 albums, a yet-to-be-released one and a demanding tour schedule, she’d managed to reap a life full of the blessings that come from touching others. She’d come a long way from her days as a young artist at Motown under the tutelage of James.

She’d brought so many lesser-known artists along, as well as collaborated with many of the greatest singers and musicians of our time. She could still bring a house down.

But it was time for her to slow down and do more for herself, see the world at her leisure, she said. It was time to pass the torch to her only blood daughter, the child she brought into the world on Dec. 25, 19 years ago to the day.

On Sunday, Teena Marie’s daughter found her dead in her sleep. She was 54. The world was not ready.

In a dizzying instant she became the protagonist of our Emerald City, a mystical love found and lost too soon.

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