Teena Marie, Grammy-nominated R&B performer and perennial L.A. concert favorite, died in her sleep Sunday at her California home. She was 54.
Born Mary Christine Brockert in Santa Monica, Calif., Marie initially shot to stardom as a protege of funk legend Rick James, who wrote all but two of the six songs on her 1979 debut for Motown Records, “Wild and Peaceful.” Berry Gordy, suspecting soul audiences at the time might reject the budding ingenue if they knew she was white, chose not to include a picture of her on the cover.
Yet Marie, also known to fans as Lady T (after her 1980 album of the same name), was among the first non-African American artists to routinely chart high on the R&B charts. Indeed, Marie's synthed-up sound served a crucial role in the development of modern urban-soul.
By the end of the 1980s, having topped the R&B countdown with “Ooo La La La” and nearly done the same on Billboard's all-inclusive pop chart with the 1984 smash “Lovergirl,” the sexpot-with-chops had helped pave the way for the likes of lasting pop icons like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.