REMEMBERING A “VANILLA CHILD”

“It was Saturday nite, the moon was bright, Shining down, it’s harvest light.”

Actually, it was Tuesday night, January 29, 1991 when a group of us went to the supper club, The Strand (it’s a Bristol Farms supermarket now) in Redondo Beach, CA, to see the one and only Teena Marie in concert. I remember the date because it was the night after the American Music Awards and I was working for MC Hammer. I was in charge of the Los Angeles Bust-It Records office, based at the iconic Capitol Records tower in Hollywood, and to say that it was a good time to be in the music industry would be an understatement. Records were selling, we had come off two incredible North American tours in 1990, Hammer had opened the AMAs and won five awards and in a couple of months, we would embark on a tour that would take the Hammer posse to Australia, Japan and Europe. So, I decided to celebrate by treating some folks to a night out on the town, complete with a few of E. J. Jackson’s stretch limos. I’m not going to say what it cost but, American Express loved me that night.

Let me step back for a moment: I had met Teena on a few occasions when she first came out because at the time, her backing band was label mates Ozone, and I knew their drummer Paul Hines. Paul and I went to the same barber shop – I had hair back in the day – and we’d become friends. I’d hung out at a few of their rehearsals and heard most of her first album before it was released. To say that I was impressed by her talent and spirit is to say that Yao Ming is a tall Chinese guy.

Anyone who knows me , knows that I LOVE music and the people that are blessed with the gift of song. Before I met/heard Teena, the one question that stuck in my mind was, who or what inspired Carole King to write (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman. I mean, where does a young (25 at the time) Jewish woman from Brooklyn get that song? After hearing Teena sing for the first time, I had another question: where did a little-bitty white girl from Venice, CA get that voice? It had to come directly from God who decided that she and she alone could handle it and would know what to do with it. How right he was.

So, there we were at The Strand. The place was packed, the food was good, the liquor was flowing – this was when I still drank – and the mood was festive. Then, it happened. The lights dimmed, the band took their places, the announcer did his thing and right before Lady T hit the stage, I told my tablemates, “Just to warn you ahead of time, I’m not responsible for my behavior once she goes into Square Biz.” Only later on did they realize that I wasn’t joking.

What was that old Parliament/Funkadelic song? Oh yeah, Tear The Roof Off The Sucker. Well, that’s exactly what Teena Marie did that night. She tore the roof off The Strand. Every hit, every album cut, every lick and note were on the one! The audience knew every word and we sang along with her and the band. And yes, when at the end of the set, when the first note of Square Biz came out of the speakers, I lost my mind! I might have danced all the way back home if not for the limo in the parking lot. That night, Lady T threw down with the force of a Category 5 hurricane.

I saw her several other times both before and after that particular show and never left disappointed. The last time was February 2008 at the Nokia Theater at LA Live. Her co-headliner was Keith Sweat and he gave an opening set that covered all his hits. He was great and if the show had ended then, you would have had your money’s worth. BUT, this is LA and it was Teena Marie’s night from start to finish. All the hits and then some. Her beautiful daughter Alia Rose joined her onstage for a song and it was plain to see Teena’s love and pride shining through.

Like so many around the world, I was saddened to hear the shocking news of Teena’s passing at the relatively young age of 54. I feel for her family and close friends because of their personal loss. I also feel for her fans who have lost one of their favorite artists. But, I also feel happy for Teena because unlike so many of us, she got to live and fulfill her dreams.

God bless and keep you Mary Christine Brockert aka “Lady T”. You are in our hearts and souls forever and a day.

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