March Madness: Why I Root for Underdogs

I woke up early Thursday morning, headed to the computer and changed my NCAA bracket hours before the first tip-off. Rather than make mine match President Barack Obama’s or ask sports columnists for advice, I decided to play with my heart. After all, it’s only money.

I chose Princeton over Kentucky.

Princeton was this year’s Cornell on my bracket. A win for an academic powerhouse would prove something: that students can be athletes.

I chose Gonzaga over St. John’s because, well, I choose them every year. And they do not disappoint.

And I chose Oakland over Texas – even though I’ll be attending the Final Four with a best friend who is a Longhorn. (I don’t plan to let her see my bracket. It wasn’t about foolish loyalty. I reserve that for my alma mater, Carolina, who I just know is going to the championship game every year (although this year, just for the money, they fall to Syracuse in my bracket. I’ll never be so glad to be wrong).

Yes, I cheered for the little university just miles north of Detroit because I believe I believe in magic, miracles and Cinderella. And they almost proved me right. They gave the Texas players a run for their money at the end that left them losing by only 4 points.

That’s respectable for a Cinderella team that no one thought had a chance.

You always have a chance. Just ask Morehead State players who sent Lousville home.

TEENA MARIE: Not Bad for a White Girl? Nah. How about brilliant in any color?

It was among the things that led to the phrase “You lying!”

Growing up, every time someone said Teena Marie was white, that was the response.  Every time someone said she could sing her butt off, even enemies and racists agreed.

That Teena Marie, one of a handful of white performers to understand and successfully interpret rhythm-and-blues, died Sunday was a shame.

But the response to news reports that she died of natural causes?

“You lying!”

There is nothing natural about the music world losing that voice and an age when many singers are beginning their second acts.

She began her career at Motown. Years earlier, Berry Gordy set the standard for interracial recruiting by signing the white rock band Rare Earth to the Motown family (Motown and Tamla Records). But it was the Sound of Young America – the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations – that defined Motown and led it to create music that became iconic.

Still, early Motown happened when we were children, and Motown was Mama and Daddy and ‘em’s music that we loved anyway.

But when Rick James arrived at Motown, full of jheri curls and vinegar, it led to a whole new Motown. Rick jammed a prom or a house party full of kids whose parents were driving around the neighborhood looking for them.

And when Motown signed Teena, the company began breaking all the rules. And so did Teena and Rick, beginning an onstage and off-stage affair that angered black women and reminded America that even in the music industry, racial tensions rule. Another successful black man chose a white woman: who did he think he was? He thought he was free.

For her first album in 1979, Motown wanted Teena to pass for black. There was no recognition of her background, her face, her beginnings. (The great irony was that so many black artists and groups had to do this in the industry’s early years.)

Teena passed, ruling black radio stations and remaining colorless until the following year, when it was her face that graced the cover of her second album, Lady T.

Four years ago, she told a National Public Radio interviewer that: “I still have people coming up to me 26 years later and looking at me and all of a sudden going, ‘I didn’t know you were white!’ ”

The rash of obituaries following her death all included a mention of her lawsuit against Motown, which wouldn’t release her from her contract, but wouldn’t let her release records – a prison no artist should endure. She won, and the Brockert Initiative (Her real name was Mary Christine Brockert.) eventually changed the lives of many artists.

Beginning with Teena.

She left Motown for Epic and soared higher than she ever had. She released “Lovergirl,” her biggest seller ever – after she left Motown.

Soon thought, like many women, she began to focus more on motherhood than the. But a decade later, she faced off against Alicia Keys for a 2005 Grammy. Keys won, but Teena was back.

Teena Marie once said: “I’m a black artist with white skin. At the end of the day you have to sing what’s in your own soul.”

At least she admits it.

But her dying at 54? There is nothing natural about that. There is only a great sense of loss at what she still had in her soul.