Just as most music aficionados of a certain age probably recall exactly where they were when we first heard Teena Marie, we’ll likely never forget what we were doing when we received word of her untimely demise. News of the singer, songwriter, and producer’s death, which occurred on the 31st year of her music career and six years after the death of her mentor Rick James, was in large measure a reflection of the social networking age: unconfirmed reports resounded throughout Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere before finally being confirmed by her publicist.
It was both a measure of fans’ disbelief and a coda of the public’s skepticism about Internet rumors that the news of Marie’s death was initially dismissed, given that it came immediately on the heels of bizarre reports that actor Charlie Sheen had died over the weekend. The circumstances surrounding Marie’s death at the far-too-young age of 54 were eerily reminiscent of those involving the death of music icon Michael Jackson in 2009, another music icon who died with no advance warning.
Born Mary Christine Brockert, the R&B chanteuse with the powerhouse voice grew up in a predominantly black Los Angeles neighborhood, and counted mostly African-American musical icons among her musical influences. She first rose to prominence by way of her professional and personal relationship with the late James, and was one of Motown’s first Caucasian artists. At the time of her signing to the label in 1976, Motown executives reportedly fretted about possible backlash from black audiences should they discover she was white.