Monday, December 27, 2010

Teena Marie Dead at 54

Motowns First White Female Act Dies at Age 54

Teena Marie, the "Ivory Queen of Soul" who developed a lasting legacy with her silky soul pipes and with hits like "Lovergirl," ''Square Biz," and "Fire and Desire" with mentor Rick James, has died. She was 54.

The singer continued performing in recent years after overcoming an addiction to prescription drugs. It was unclear late Sunday where and how she died.

Marie certainly wasn't the first white act to sing soul music, but she was arguably among the most gifted and respected, and was thoroughly embraced by the black audience.
Even before she started her musical career, she had a strong bond with the black community, which she credited to her godmother. She gravitated to soul music and in her youth decided to make it her career.

Marie made her debut on the legendary Motown label back in 1979, becoming one of the very few white acts to break the race barrier of the groundbreaking black-owned record label that had been a haven for black artists like Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.

Marie was the protege of the masterful funk wizard James, with whom she would have long, turbulent but musically magical relationship.

The cover of her debut album, "Wild and Peaceful," did not feature her image, with Motown apparently fearing black audiences might not buy it if they found out the songstress with the dynamic, gospel-inflected voice was white.

But Marie notched her first hit, "I'm A Sucker for Your Love," and was on her way to becoming one of R&B's most revered queens. During her tenure with Motown, the singer-songwriter and musician produced passionate love songs and funk jam songs like "Need Your Lovin'," ''Behind the Groove" and "Ooh La La La."

Marie's voice was the main draw of her music: Pitch-perfect, piercing in its clarity and wrought with emotion, whether it was drawing from the highs of romance or the mournful moments of a love lost. But her songs, most of which she had a hand in writing, were the other major component of her success.

Tunes like "Cassanova Brown" ''Portuguese Love" and "Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)" featured more than typical platitudes on love and life, but complex thoughts with rich lyricism.
And "Fire and Desire," a duet with Rick James that featured the former couple musing about their past love, was considered a musical masterpiece and a staple of the romance block on radio stations across the country.

Marie left Motown in 1982 and her split became historic: She sued the label and the legal battle led to a law preventing record labels from holding an artist without releasing any of their music.

She went to Epic in the 1980s and had hits like "Lovergirl" but her lasting musical legacy would be her Motown years.

Still, she continued to record music and perform. In 2004 and 2006 she put out two well-received albums on the traditional rap label Cash Money Records, "La Dona" and "Sapphire."

In 2008, she talked about her excitement of being honored by the R&B Foundation.

"All in all, it's been a wonderful, wonderful ride," she told The Associated Press at the time. "I don't plan on stopping anytime soon."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press

Happy Kwanzaa!

Origins
Kwanzaa, a relatively new observance in December, dates back just 34 years. The holiday's primary purpose is to link African traditions and American customs.

Each candle represents a principle the holiday honors.
Founded by Dr. Mualena Karenga, then chairman of black studies at California State University in Long Beach, Kwanzaa focuses on seven core principles, expressed in Swahili as Nguzo Saba (nn-Goo-zoh SAH-bah). Each principle is linked with one of the seven days of the celebration, which runs from December 26 through January 1 each year. Listed in order of observance, the principles are:


Umoja (oo-MOH-JAH) -- Unity
Kujichagulia (koo-ji-chah-goo-LEE-ah) -- Self-determination
Ujima (oo-JEE-mah) -- Collective work and responsibility
Ujamma (oo-jah-MAH) -- Cooperative economics
Nia (NEE-ah) -- Purpose
Kuumba (koo-OO-mbah) -- Creativity
Imani (ee-MAH-nee) -- Faith

The holiday's daily ritual begins with the lighting of one of the seven candles placed in the candleholder called the kinara (kee-NAH-rah), by a family member or friend. This candle-lighting is followed by a discussion of the day's principle, a folktale, or a shared recollection of how the principle has influenced the family or friend participating in the celebration.

The first candle lit and placed in the center of the kinara is the black candle, which is symbolic of unity. As the celebration continues in the following days, revelers light a red or green candle daily to commemorate each principle. The three green candles represent self-determination, collective work and responsibility, and cooperative economics. The three red candles are for purpose, creativity, and faith. Often the green candles are placed to the right of the black candle and the three red candles are placed on the left side.

The word Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili word meaning "first" or "first fruits of the harvest." Kwanzaa reflects the traditions of harvest festivals celebrated in many African countries, acknowledging the first fruits of the harvest, and the reward of family and friends working together to produce the season's crop.

Practices
As with any holiday, Kwanzaa traditions vary and continue to evolve with each celebration.

Make your celebration unique and memorable.
Though the holiday is a celebration of African-American heritage and culture, it is important to remember that African-Americans are diverse, reflecting a broad spectrum of experiences and lifestyles. Kwanzaa traditions also reflect this diversity. These traditions include the following:

Making Kwanzaa Gifts
Families set aside time on the first day of Kwanzaa to make handmade gifts to exchange during the karamu (feast). Typically, gifts are handmade and educational, teaching something about the heritage of people of African descent.

Honoring Ancestors and Elders
In local communities or among church youth groups, young people visit nursing homes and senior centers to celebrate Kwanzaa with residents. Thoughtful visitors might bring small gifts for the residents, like bookmarks or socks with Kwanzaa-colored trim.

Wearing Traditional African Clothing
Though traditional African garb can be worn year round, many people wear it during the seven days of Kwanzaa or at the Kwanzaa feast or karamu. By wearing African garb, revelers reinforce cultural identity and the Kwanzaa principles of unity, creativity, and cooperative economics.

Planning Special Meals
Food is an integral part of the celebration. On each day of the Kwanzaa celebration, hosts include a dish from a different country in the African diaspora. By enjoying national dishes from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, Americans can learn more about these foreign cultures and customs. Kwanzaa meals might include Jollof Rice, a traditional West African dish, jerk meats from the Caribbean, and black beans that are popular in Caribbean and South American dishes.

During Kwanzaa, some people abstain from eating meat or fast until the Kwanzaa feast or karamu. This decision is a personal choice, based on willingness to give up something that is enjoyed. The decision to omit meat can also be linked to Kwanzaa principles, such as self-determination and faith. Historically, the choice to omit meat from the diet harks back to the challenges of African slaves to survive in new lands, when meat was not included in their meals.

Enjoying a Kwanzaa Feast
The Kwanzaa karamu can be an intimate event with close family and friends, or a large community celebration. This menu can be a cooperative effort with each person bringing a dish. These dishes can be family favorites or foods of one particular country. In the spirit of Kwanzaa and learning about African heritage, some families and churches select one country, and the entire karamu menu includes dishes and foods from that specified land.