Before her untimely death at the age of 54 on the day after Christmas 2010, Teena Marie, known as the Ivory Queen of Soul or simply Lady Tee as one of the only white artists ever signed to Motown Records, wrote, produced, arranged and sang on 13 albums that have sold 2.5 million copies. Starting with her 1979, Rick James-produced debut, Wild and Peaceful, Teena Marie’s many soul and R&B hits include “Square Biz,” “Behind the Groove,” “I Need Your Lovin’,” “Fire and Desire,” “Lovergirl” and “Ooo La La La,” a song famously sampled by the Fugees.
Teena Marie was working on her 14th and latest album for Universal Music Enterprises, Beautiful, at the time of her passing, the follow-up to 2009’s Congo Square, which peaked at #4 on the R&B chart and went to #20 on the album chart, producing the Top 12 Urban AC hit, “Can’t Last a Day.” Recorded at her own Pasadena home studio and finished except for final mixes, Beautiful was seen through to its conclusion by Teena’s 20-year-old daughter Alia Rose, who sings on three of the tracks (joining her mom on “Rare Breed” and “Sweet Tooth,” both of which she co-wrote-along with “Beautiful”-as well as a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love”). The first single, “Luv Letter,” which has just gone to radio, is just that, an homage to Tee’s Motown roots, with nods to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” and a dedication to Alia’s father, who just happened to be a postman, like in the Marvelettes’ song of the same name. The album comes out Jan. 15, 2013.
The project, with its intimations of death, was a difficult one for Alia, with her mom seemingly prescient about her destiny on songs like “Rare Breed,” where she sings, “I could say I had the world here in my hands and not believe/That angels sat beside me to protect my very dreams.” She even plays a radio DJ “broadcasting to you from a heavenly station” in “The Long Play.”
“It was a very dark and emotional time for me,” explains Alia, who has just opened a Hollywood recording facility, Chateau Marie, as a memoriam, with partner, Odd Future’s “Syd tha Kyd” Bennett, using much of the equipment from her mom’s home studio. “The project was a bittersweet thing. I knew that only I could get it done, but I almost didn’t want to finish because I knew it would be the last time I’d get to work on it.”
The album was co-produced by Teena’s longtime musical director, bassist/composer Doug Grigsby, whose credits include Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Mariah Carey, Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass, Rick James and Luther Vandross, among others. It was recorded and mixed by Erik Zobler, whose studio credits include Jackson’s Off the Wall as well as Miles Davis, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and Gladys Knight, among many others. But the real impetus came from Teena’s only daughter, who made sure this final product would do justice to her mom’s legacy.
“If you listen to the lyrics, it’s almost as if she was making that transition to the spiritual world as the record was being made, which is incredible,” says Alia. “It’s like we’re going on this journey with her.”
Rick James’ daughter Ty lends vocal support on “Rare Breed,” while the title track is a lush ballad composed by Teena Marie when she was vacationing on the Turks and Caicos Islands with Alia, “just walking on the beach, having fun in the sand. thinking about how much of herself was in me.”
Now that Beautiful is about to be released, Alia is looking forward to thinking about her own future in music with her new recording studio.
“I get to help other people, and if something comes along for me, of course, I will take that opportunity,” she says. “My mom always intended for her studio to be used by my friends, and now that’s going to be what happens.”
At the end of the day, though, Alia Rose is a young woman that lost her mother, who just happened to be a “rock star,” as she describes her, at a too-young age.
“My mom and I were very close,” she says. “We talked. I’m very much like my mother. She was not just my mom, she was my best friend and my sister. We fought like sisters, too. I know what real love is from my mom.”
Beautiful is a mother’s gift to her daughter, who returns the gesture the only way she knows how, by completing it. The end result is a true labor of love.
Check out both versions now of “Luv Letter,” one with an intro and the other without!