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Teneia: 2015 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Music

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You submitted nominations for the best and brightest emerging Valley creatives, and the results are in. Presenting the 2015 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the announcement of winners at Artopia on May 9, Jackalope Ranch, Chow Bella, and Up on the Sun will introduce the finalists. Up today is Teneia.

The video for Phoenix musician Teneia's recent single, "Rest of My Life," begins by reminding the viewer that as recently as 2000, interracial marriage was banned in Alabama.

It's a sweet love song propelled only by acoustic guitar, bass, and Teneia's masterful R&B-ladened vocals. We meet four couples -- two interracial straight couples, one lesbian couple -- and Teneia (full name Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger) and her significant other, Ben Eichelberger, who serves as her musical companion. By the end of the video, Sanders and Eichelberger, wearing grins the size of the Grand Canyon, stand in a municipal building as a man in a black robe pronounces them man and wife.

See also: Announcing the 2015 Big Brain Finalists

As an interracial couple, Sanders and Eichelberger say they haven't had to face any of the social backlash they would have a half-century ago. The striking video shows that love is love, regardless of the genetic makeup of the parties involved.

"The video was about celebrating couples that are different," Sanders says. "We wouldn't have been able to get married 50 years ago."

The current civil rights battle of today is the one for gay rights, and these two see their marriage as spoils from a civil rights victory of the past. With the video, they're lending their support to gay couples all over the country, especially those in the 14 states that have yet to legalize gay marriage. The hope is that, in another 50 years, gay marriage will be as common and accepted as Sanders and Eichelberger's.

At the heart of Sanders' music is her soulful, powerful voice. The daughter of a preacher, she grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, raised in the church singing gospel music (she still sings occasionally at a non-denominational church that a friend introduced her to). She started writing songs at 8, and by 12, she had discovered country and classic rock. During this time she put in hours and hours practicing singing, developing her now-jaw-dropping pipes.

"I would just rehearse and practice over and over again," Sanders says of her voice. "At this point, it just comes naturally . . . I'm just blessed to have a voice that can do a lot of things."

All those influences from her childhood are readily apparent in her music, which these days draws equally from soul, country, and folk. Her voice has the delicate touch of Alicia Keys' softer side, pulling bluesy power and R&B flashiness. Call it acoustic neo-soul if you will, rootsy pop with a desert twist.

Teneia hopes to release an EP by the end of May. In 2014, Sanders had a full band. These days, she has stripped down her sound to just her and her husband, and the couple couldn't be happier with the result.

"It really allows the message of the music to come across," Eichelberger says.

"There's a story with every song," Sanders says.

The 2015 Big Brain Award winners will be announced on Saturday, May 9, during New Times' Artopia, an evening of food, drink, art, and music at Monarch Theatre. For details and tickets, $25, visit www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.

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