Remembering Ms. Teena Marie

Ms. Teena Marie, also known as Lady Tee, passed away earlier today at home in Los Angeles: she was only fifty-four. Her career was impressive, her voice transcendent (I’d say, it was truly post-racial, if you will).  But it was her personality, her grace and absence of ego that left a powerful impression on me.  Having had the good fortune of meeting her one beautiful afternoon in Los Angeles is something I will always cherish.

Our meeting was a total surprise, a shock to my system. And though it happened more than a decade ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.

A friend of mine, a total trickster, asked me to tag along on an errand: he needed to bring soup to “a friend” who wasn’t feeling well.  When we pulled up to her driveway—he didn’t offer a name, I didn’t think twice about asking—he gave me the food and said, “I’m going to park over here with D. Please, just knock on the door and bring this to her before the soup gets cold.” I protested, feeling uncomfortable knocking on some stranger’s door with lunch. “Why can’t you just get out of the car and bring it to her yourself?” My friend drove off, leaving me there in front of her doorway. I rang the doorbell to what looked like a small guest house. And there she stood: Ms. Teena Marie. Her hair was auburn and big, she dressed her petite frame in stark white and her nose was tinged red. My knees buckled.

Sure, as a journalist I’ve interviewed celebrities before. But this was Teena Marie. This was Ms. Teena Marie. This was the same woman who sang “Square Biz,” a track I’d lip-sync in front of the mirror when I was a kid back home in New York City. Her songs served as a soundtrack to those special moments that marked my childhood: a first and second and third crush, watching older teenagers awkwardly sort of slow-dance to “Portuguese Love” at my Catholic grammar school gym, Catholic high school gym, public high school yard. As I stood there in front of her, I said nothing. She invited me in.

My friend trailed behind me and said, “Hi Teena. This is Raquel. She wanted to be you when she was a kid.” I wanted to kill him.

That afternoon she played a medley of her hits—yes, my knees still felt like they would give out from under me—and some new stuff too. Her daughter Alia was perhaps seven or eight at the time and reminded me of my own infant daughter. When I remarked at their resemblance, Ms. Marie replied, in that sexy-raspy voice of hers, “Yeah sistah, I could see how our daughters could look alike. Maybe we met in another life. You did look familiar when I opened the door.” And she want back to tickling the keys of her grand piano, belting the soul food we all came to love her for. It was a lovely afternoon.

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