Teena Marie

When the Motown label signed Teena Marie everyone assumed she was black - Motown had no white acts at the time and her records were so full of soul, it came as a shock when she started making personal appearances. Ironically, though, her biggest successes came after she'd left Motown to join the Epic label and her international reputation was cemented by the 1984 album Starchild, which launched her signature hit Lovergirl. The fourth of five children raised in Santa Monica, California from a mixed Portuguese/Italian/Irish/Native American background, she revealed her singing talent at an early age and started attending auditions singing Motown songs. As a child she appeared in the TV show Beverly Hillbillies, going on to front local rock band Truvair. She auditioned for a projected movie Motown were considering making but, when he heard her sing, label boss Berry Gordy signed her instead to a solo recording contract. Labelmate Rick James was also impressed and worked with her on debut album Wild And Peaceful when she adopted the stage name Teena Marie. She had her first hit duetting with James on I'm A Sucker For Your Love and as a result she became the first white guest on US TV show Soul Train. Second and third albums Lady T and Irons In The Fire further enhanced her reputation and the single I Need Your Lovin' brought her first international hit. Leaving Motown after a contractual dispute, she signed to Epic and gained international stardom on the back of the Lovergirl single. She diversified with the concept album Robbery and, produced by Giorgio Moroder, sang Lead Me On in the movie Top Gun before returning to her R&B roots with the Naked To The World album; that included another hit, Ooh La La, a track later sampled to great effect by the Fugees on Fu-Gee-La. Teena Marie herself embraced hip hop on the track Square Biz but, after a lull in the 1990s, she made comebacks with La Doña (2004) and Sapphire (2006). She had further success in 2009 with the highly personal album Congo Square, but died suddenly a year later.

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