Often Imitated, Never Duplicated

The only white artist who has been thoroughly embraced by the black audience, long before Christina Aguilera and the slew of girls to follow, Teena Marie has dominated blue-eyed soul.

BY Clay Cane

May 20 2009 11:00 PM ET

Teena Marie is an
anomaly in R&B music. She is the only white artist who has
been thoroughly embraced by the black audience. Along
with Janis Joplin and Dusty Springfield, Teena is the
originator of blue-eyed soul -- years before Christina Aguilera
and the slew of girls to follow.

"I've always been
a very Afrocentric person," Marie says. "I
think that it's beautiful that there has been no other
female like me. I think it's really awesome to walk out
onstage at the Essence Music Festival and sing for 80,000 black
people. They don't care what color my skin is."

But it wasn't
always that way. In 1979, when Marie's first album was
released on Motown, it included no images of the California
native. Motown head Berry Gordy thought black audiences
wouldn't embrace a white woman singing R&B.

Thirty years later,
she's of course proved Gordy wrong. With her latest R&B
album,
Congo Square,

due June 9, the R&B songstress talks to Advocate.com about
overly masculine R&B, gay fans, Rick James, and more.

Advocate.com:

This year marks 30 years in the music industry. In the
beginning did you think,
I'm going to be an R&B legend and last for 30
years!

Was that your plan?Teena Marie:

[
Laughs

] No, I don't think I ever thought about it like that. I
was just having fun. I knew that God gave me a powerful gift,
though. That I did know.

The name of your new album is
Congo Square,

which is a place where slaves would dance and sing. Is that
correct?

Congo Square is in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Back in
slavery times, the slaves were allowed to dance and sing on
Sundays. I was thinking how powerful that music must've
been. I got to thinking about all the music that came after
that -- the whole jazz era and Louis Armstrong being the father
of jazz. People like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, all
these amazing artists that came through New Orleans. Not just
the jazz artists, but the folksingers that are on the corner
... it's just a very mystical place. I've always felt
really tied to it so I thought it would be awesome if it would
be our address. Once I finished the album, my cousin came down
here from Portland and actually found out that my ancestors are
from there. I never knew that. It was very mystical, I always
felt like it was my second home. I could've found this out
20 years ago, but I found it out right now as I finished an
album called
Congo Square.

You were, of course, on the legendary Motown label. What is
your relationship like now with Mr. Berry Gordy?

Mr. Gordy is still like my mentor -- we are very
close. I just saw him recently; he comes to all my shows.
It's like a family relationship. Once you are part of the
Motown family, you always are. He's amazing; it's been
a wonderful ride with him. Watching him in the studio, working
with him in the studio -- I really don't think anyone ever
understood me like he did. We are very close.

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