Teena Marie, Motown's Funky White Girl and Rick James's Ex, Dead at 54

The entire world's tapped its foot to a Teena Marie tune. Some know it, like all those fans with feathered bangs who own a complete audiocassette collection of the Ivory Queen of Soul's thirteen studio releases.

But others are clueless, like the legions of 16-year-old stoners who got curiously caught up in funk pop flow of "Behind the Groove" while committing virtual vehicular homicide. (Explanatory note: The song was part of the soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.)

So yesterday, when Teena Marie (born Mary Christine Brockert) died at the age of 54, life got a little less catchy for everyone, from '80s superfans to teenage potheads.

As the first caucasian to get a record deal with Motown in 1979, Teena instantly became America's leading funky white girl. In the early '80s, she added to that rep by dating and recording with top-selling superfreak Rick James, eventually scoring a Top 40 hit, the duet "Fire and Desire." There were also successful solo singles like 1981's "Square Biz," 1985's "Lovergirl," and 1988's "Ooo La La La." By 1990, however, her career began to fade, even though she still regularly released new material, played up and down the Vegas strip, and even earned a 2005 Grammy nomination.

Then a month ago, Teena suffered a seizure at her home in Los Angeles. At the time, she had been scheduled to perform in Miami on New Year's Eve alongside MAZE with Frankie Beverly at the James L. Knight Center. But soon the show was cancelled. And yesterday, the sad news arrived that Motown's funky white girl had unexpectedly died.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, certain bloggers made the typical (yet not entirely illogical) assumption that drugs must have been involved. But so far, the official word out of the Los Angeles Coroners Department (via TMZ) is that Teena Marie's death was most likely caused by another massive seizure.

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S. Pajot