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Singer-songwriter Teena Marie dies at 54

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Music legend Teena Marie dies at 54
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "She was one of the greatest vocalists of our time," says the founder of Radio One
  • Teena Marie, born Mary Brockert, was found dead Sunday in her home
  • She had a three-decade career in music, and was nominated four times for a Grammy
  • She had worked with late funk legend Rick James, Smokey Robinson and others
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(CNN) -- Teena Marie, a celebrated R&B singer-songwriter, was found dead Sunday at her California home, her manager said.

Born Mary Christine Brockert in Santa Monica, California, the 54-year-old artist famously paired with late funk legend Rick James and was nominated four times for a Grammy Award, according to her official website.

Marie was found dead by her daughter after apparently dying in her sleep, manager Mike Gardner said.

"Teena was a black voice trapped in a white body," said Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, a broadcasting company that targets African-American and urban listeners. "I would always tell her that she was one of the greatest vocalists of our time."

Among her songs were "Lovergirl," "Portuguese Love," "Ooo La La La," and "I'm a Sucker for Your Love."

While no cause of death has been released, the singer's publicist Lynn Jeter said that Marie suffered a grand mal seizure -- a neurological event, marked by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions, according to the Mayo Clinic -- a month ago.

"Luckily, someone was there," Jeter said of that seizure. "The ambulance took her to the hospital, and on the way she had another seizure."

The publicist said that she had a "great" conversation on Saturday with Marie, who told her that she was excited about heading to Atlanta to perform this week -- in what would have been her first performance since the seizure.

Marie sang under various record labels, including Motown, Epic, Stax Records and Cash Money Classics, since bursting on the scene as a 19-year-old, according to her website. Her last studio album, Congo Square, featured several collaborations.

"I am horrified by the sudden death of my darling Teena Marie," Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement sent by his publicist. "She was my 'baby,' always true to herself, always true to her heart."

Berry called her a "powerhouse performer, writer, producer and arranger."

"When I first auditioned her she was so awesome she blew me away," Gordy said. "She had so much soul -- the only thing white about her was her skin."

"The enduring influence of Teena's inspirational, trailblazing career, could only have been made possible through her brilliant song-writing, showmanship and high energy passion which laid the ground work for the future generations of R&B, hip-hop, and soul," said Gene Rumsey, chief label officer with Concord Music Group. "We feel extremely fortunate to have worked with a visionary who changed music in indelible ways."

Eddie Levert, founder of the vocal group The O'Jays, praised Marie as both a singer and mother.

"There are a lot of black people who swore by her and believed in her, as far as her music was concerned," he said. "She was a good mom, and to me, that is saying a lot.''

CNN's Roland S. Martin and Denise Quan contributed to this report.

 
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