Tweets Drive News of Teena Marie’s Death

Find out how news of her death was revealed, and then confirmed. Plus, an update on ex-federal prisoner Kemba Smith.

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Teena Marie (Charley Gallay/Getty)

Updated on December 27, 5:18 pm ET.

R&B singer Teena Marie died at age 54, it was reported Sunday night, and the news spread by e-mail and by social-media tools such as Twitter before the mainstream media had a chance to catch up.

But it was old-school reporting that enabled Roland Martin, the analyst for CNN, TV One and the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” to tell the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists at 8:19 p.m. Eastern, “It is true. I just confirmed it with her manager and publicist. I will have details in a moment.” He was simultaneously keeping his Twitter followers up to date. Marie’s daughter, Alia Rose, found the entertainer’s body earlier Sunday at Marie’s California home.

The Associated Press reported later that a statement from Pasadena police said the death appeared to be from natural causes. “The police and fire department were called to her home after family members found her unresponsive.”

“I got a bunch of tweets and Facebook comments asking about it. I saw comedian Kym Whitley tweet that the story wasn’t true of her death. I called Kym. Kym put me on the three-way with Teena’s publicist, Lynn Jeter. Lynn said it wasn’t true, but for me to call Teena’s manager, Mike Gardner. She gave me his cell. Jeter had been trying to call Teena all day about it and had no luck getting through. I called Gardner immediately and he said, ‘It’s true.’

“I called Jeter back, she said she had just gotten through to the house, and talked to the folks there who said the coroner had just left with Teena’s body.”

For those unfamiliar with Marie, born Marie Christine Brockert, this is how she was described for a fall 2009 episode of “Unsung!,” a TV One series that chronicles R&B stars of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s:

“There may never be a more soulful, sexy, funky combination of voice and music like that which emanates from the ‘Ivory Queen of Soul,’ Teena Marie. Signed by Motown at 17, and teamed up musically — and for a time, romantically — with funk master Rick James, who produced her debut album, ‘Wild and Peaceful’, and later put together their steamy duet, ‘Fire and Desire,’ one of the all time stage show-stoppers. That, and Teena’s robust sound and powerful delivery, helped to overcome long standing racial barriers between Black audiences and white singers.

“Under the auspices of James, she launched a ground-breaking initiative that allowed her to leave Motown at the height of her career, and also revolutionized the relationship between musicians and record labels throughout the industry. Teena went on to solely produce every subsequent album in her career, while earning four Grammy nominations, and recording a host of classic R&B hit singles, including ‘Square Biz,’ ‘Lover Girl,’ ‘Oh La La La’ and ‘Portuguese Love.’ She also shared a poignant reunion on stage with her friend and mentor Rick James, shortly before his passing in 2005. It’s all part of an inspirational story, still unfolding, of a woman who poured her life into music, and whose music has enriched our lives.”

TV One tweeted Sunday night that it was re-running the episode Monday at 9 p.m. and midnight Eastern and Pacific times.

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