They call her Vanilla Child and the Ivory Queen of Soul, but Teena Marie is much more than a blue-eyed soul singer. The Grammy-nominated artist, labeled as the premiere “multi-ethnic R&B singer,” has graced the soul charts for more than three decades with hits such as “I’m Just a Sucker for Your Love” and “Square Biz.” Her new album, “Congo Square,” celebrates her 30-year recording career with a plethora of influenced soul, funk, jazz and blues sounds.
“I’ve been in the business since 1963,” Marie said, though her recording career spans a mere 30 years. “I was 7-years- old. I don’t know anything else. I’ve seen so many things, though. I remember 8-tracks. And when I was at Motown I used to go to the record pressings and watch them press the wax out. That was an awesome experience.”
The singer also stated that she has certainly embraced the technology shaping the music industry today, but she definitely keeps it old school.
“Unfortunately, young people don’t have the experience of what we had; to have a beautiful record album,” she continued talking about the joys of vinyl albums. “It’s a nice size, not the size of a CD, so you really get to see the artwork and all the writers, the producers. The inside has amazing liner notes that you don’t really see any more – and if they do have them, they’re so tiny.”
Teena Marie’s new disc is titled “Congo Square,” inspired by the open space/park just north of the French Quarter in New Orleans. According to history, in the early 1700s Congo Square was a place where slaves were commonly allowed to gather on Sundays and they would set up markets, sing, dance and play music.
“I love New Orleans, and I always have since the moment I got off the plane years and years ago when I did my first concert there. It seemed to be familiar to me instantly,” Marie said of the home of her inspiration. “The air seemed to call me and the food, the culture, the people. I just felt like I had been there before and I’ve never felt that so strongly when I went to a place. So over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time there. I was actually looking for a second home before Katrina hit.”
Even before realizing her own connection to Congo Square, she felt it would be great to consider this place “the address” of all the musicians and singers who ever came through or were inspired by those that came through, and her album highlights some of those artists.
While the disc pays homage to the likes of music legends such as Marvin Gaye, Gamble & Huff and her mentor Rick James, the project features some of contemporary music legends including MC Lyte, Faith Evans and Howard Hewitt.