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Goodbye, Teena Marie -- Dead at 54

I'm trying to be philosophical and remind myself, in my grieving for the passing away of this talented woman, that while bodies can fail and cease to be adequate vehicles for the soul, the spirit never dies. But Teena Marie's death makes me cry.

She was the Mariah Carey of the 80's and would have enjoyed something close to Mariah's fame and stature had society been as progressive then as it is now. But the Vanilla Child was firmly entrenched in soul, at a time when only the safer, less edgy personalities of Diana Ross and Donna Summer could enjoy crossover appeal.

Perhaps, the whole world didn't get to know her, or enjoy the strength and passion of her voice, but those of us who did were singularly blessed.

Teena was the only white singer I can think of whose fame did not extend beyond the black community. And she never came across as pandering or a wannabee, even when she sang about loving chicken and collard greens. She was the real deal. Even the most territorial of sisters didn't seem to mind the thought of Teena having a little Fire and Desire going on with Rick James. We loved her, and Rick's wildness made us feel sympathetic and protective of her. Who didn't suspect the Super Freak had broken her heart a time or two, forcing her to use that lovely voice to best express what she'd been going through?   

Yes, the heartbreak in her voice was as authentic as her love of soul food, and one of the most endearing things about her. That tenderness roared through songs like Aladdin's Lamp, Portugese Love and Casanova Brown, and echoed the pain of many a young woman coming of age in the seventies and eighties. We roared along with her.

And when she was triumphant and... sated, as she was in Fire and Desire, vocally paired to perfection with Rick James, we swayed along in romantic bliss.

Thank God for records and cds and You Tube. And memories. Because her style hearkens back to days gone by.

Earlier tonight, I listened to her sing DeJa Vu  with a voice that bore evidence of several lifetimes worth of living. And I had to agree. She'd been here before.


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