Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ooh La La La: Reflections on Lady T

It's been 3 days since Teena Marie died. Aside from a brief, very enjoyable, but distracting interlude into watching freestyle videos from the 1980s, I've been thinking about this post.

I like Teena Marie. I like her music, love how she spelled out words in her songs, and I like how she talked about Black music, Black people, and Black culture. She gave respect.

 (I also dig her hair in this video from an early Soul Train appearance, but that's another story)

And, while I've been perusing video clips and reading other twitter and blogposts about Teena Marie, I am reminded that there was a moment in my life--a time when Teena Marie was more popular--that I didn't dare speak about my enjoyment of this "Vanilla Charm." In the early 1980s, I listened to rap music, R&B, and funk, just like my peers. Prince (and his protégés) was my favorite but, given my mother's extensive record collection, I also loved sitting in front of the speakers listening to more traditional R&B sounds of Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Shirley Murdock, Millie Jackson, and Rufus and Chaka Khan.

There wasn't any Teena Marie in our house growing up. And, at the time, I was glad. See, my mother is a blue-eyed, vanilla charm herself. And though we never really talked about it, it seemed that there was a clear reason why Teena Marie wasn't played in our house. She wasn't really the kind of soul sound my mother liked. She liked deep, richer sounds that her and my father used to listen to when they were married. However, it also felt like she didn't listen to Lady T because they were two different kinds of white women, or at least purported to be. I say the last sentence because, when I was growing up, Teena Marie was the kind of white woman that you didn't want to associate with or be. I know there have been discussions online about the Black community's embrace of her, but in small town Missouri in the 1970s and 1980s, she was the white woman who was trying to be Black. And, probably stealing your man at the same time.

My mother could not afford to be that kind of white woman, or associated with that type of woman. She had two Black children to raise and maintained close relationships with my grandmother and aunts. And, she just genuinely wasn't "that kind of white woman." My mother, like Marie, had deep respect for Black people and Black culture. She raised me as a Black, not mixed, girl. I was taught to be proud of being Black and, she would (embarrassingly at times) come to blows with anyone who messed with me as a child.

But, it was tricky trying to negotiate relationships with Black girls in my small town in the shadow of "needing some lovin', stealing-Black-men-white women lovergirls" who wanted to be Black, when my mother was white. And, I shared the same feelings about white girls as a teenager: Why couldn't they date their own men? Why they gotta be all up at our parties dancing with the brothas? Why do they wanna be Black? I must admit, I still have some of those same feelings when I see white women and Black men together. I do a double take walking down the street or at holidays with my family where most of the women are white, the men are Black, and all the children look like me.

These are the conversations, the realities that come back to me as I reflect on Teena Marie's life and role in soul music, of her Black daughter finding her on Sunday morning, and of yet another piece of my youth gone too soon.

So, rest in peace, Lady T. And thank you for the memories. Amore Portuguese.


Melonee said...

Great post! I appreciate the honesty that many people share on this topic but never speak about publicly. Though I never saw Teena Marie in the way you saw her, I always allowed her into some type of "imagined" group of White soul singers my parents enjoyed; this group is a small group that consists of Taylor Dane, Michael McDonald, Boney James, and Jon B. They didn't deflower the music with pop non-sense or constrained riffs. Teena Marie was eloquent and partied hard with the likes of Rick James and still came out standing. Today I see many White singers gone pop and co-opt Blackness like its no one's business and it rubs me the wrong way but I see a younger generation eat it up. How do we navigate these channels today in an "imagined" post-racial America? It begins with posts like this - brutally honest and real!

Cecile Johns said...

i love that you get into the complications of the issue, but the love is undeniable. i think musically i was inspired by her to the point that her "whiteness" was submerged a little bit - i was listening to things she did with her voice, songwriting, etc. she's someone i was trying to learn something from.

i feel you on the family gatherings dynamic of white women with black men.

thanks for the post, i'm glad to have found you.

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting insights. That's all.

Anonymous said...

I'm mixed and was also raised Black. I remember hanging out with my Black friends, listening to R&B. It was the early 70's and we had to adjust the antenna just right to get KDIA (the SF Black station) to listen to the soulful sounds of Teddy, The Stylistics, Smokey, The Delfonics, Gladys, Etc. Then came Teena. I was at my cousin's house playing cards and he put on her album. When "Aladdin's Lamp" came on, I asked, "Who is this"? He broke out the album cover and I almost fell out of my seat. Needless to say, I went out and bought the album and most of her subsequent albums. Her music is timeless and she's one of a few who give me goose bumps listening to her one-of-a-kind "written and produced by Teena Marie" cuts. American Idol will never come across a voice like hers. May she rest in peace.

queerblackfeminist said...

thanks, anonymous, for your words and memories.