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Teena Marie: She Was Us

I was shocked to hear of Teena Marie's passing. Just as there are those who will always believe that Elvis, Tupac and Biggie are still alive, I'm one of those who will always believe this: Teena Marie was black. Blacker than me.

Yes, I saw video of her mother on TV One's "Unsung." Yes, I've seen her perform on television numerous times. I just refuse to believe that a white woman could talk, sing, and move in the world the way she did and still be white. If we as black people could give honorary black status to anyone, Teena Marie would have been at the top of the list. But we wouldn't have thought she needed such status. She was us.

She didn't imitate R&B and hip-hop; she was R & B and hip-hop. She wasn't like us; she was us. Teena Marie could have used the N-word and I don't think a single black person would have flinched. She earned that right, if for no other reason, for putting up with Rick James' mess as long as she did and not turning away from us because of it.

It is because of her rap in "Square Biz" that I learned about Sarah Vaughn. I didn't realize until I was older that she was praising through imitation Sarah Vaughn's phrasing when she sang, "I'm. . . .talk. . . ing . . . square biz . . . I'mtalkingsquarebiztoyooooo . . ." Who else but a black woman could write a rhyme that sent up praises to Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni in the same rhyme?

Teena Marie, that's who.

She lead the way -- no, blazed the way -- for so many female singer-songwriter-producers. She fought Motown and Berry Gordy and won, making legal precedent for artists so that record companies could not refuse to release their records while holding them hostage to their contracts. That she had the balls to go up against Motown near its apex and win speaks volumes.

But the moment I became absolutely certain that Teena Marie was black was when she was asked during the "Unsung" episode what she was most proud of and she replied, "My child." A black woman could be elected president, win the Nobel Peace Prize, and broker peace in the Middle East, but if you were to ask her what she's most proud of, she'd still say, "My child."

I will miss Teena Marie, but I will also celebrate her through her music. Our music. Because she was us.

And I don't care what anybody says, that sistah was black.

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