CNN reports that the R&B legend Teena Marie has died. Lady T, born Mary Christine Brockert, was an explosive singer with a gift for wrapping her voice around the mutating strands of soul music that bubbled up throughout the 1980s. No cause of death has been reported yet, but manager Mike Gardner tells CNN that her daughter found her body after she apparently died in her sleep. Marie was 54.
Marie signed to Motown in the late 70s and became a protégé of the label’s reigning star, Rick James. James wrote and produced tracks on her 1979 debut album, Wild and Peaceful, and two of her iconic early songs were duets with James: Her own lithe funk jam “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love” and “Fire and Desire”, a key track on James’ landmark 1981 album Street Songs.
On successive albums, Marie came into her own as a writer and producer as well as a singer, and she scored R&B hits including the disco warm-up “I Need Your Lovin'”, the funk smash “Square Biz”, the burbling synth monster “Fix It”, and the crossover dance-pop hit “Lovergirl”. In 1983, Marie left Motown for Epic after an ugly legal battle. And across her Motown and Epic albums, there’s a serious genre-blending streak at work; the iconoclastic rock critic Chuck Eddy even named her 1986 LP Emerald City one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time in his book Stairway to Hell.
Marie’s career as a hitmaker faded during the late 80s, but she was considered an R&B eminence for the rest of her life. During the past decade, she released two albums on Cash Money. Her final album, 2009’s Congo Square, came out on Stax.