Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tenn., northeast of Memphis, and spent her earliest years on the Poindexter farm in Nutbush, an unincorporated area nearby, where she sang in the choir of the Spring Hill Baptist Church, along with her parents and two sisters. Her father, Floyd, known by his middle name, Richard, worked as the farm’s overseer — “We were well-to-do farmers,” — and had a difficult relationship with his wife, Zelma (Currie) Bullock.
Her parents left Anna and her older sister, Alline, with relatives when they went to work at a military installation in Knoxville, TN during World War II. The family reunited after the war, but Zelma left her husband in the early 1950s and Anna went to live with her maternal grandmother in Brownsville.
After her grandmother died, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, rejoining her mother as she attended Sumner High School there. She and sister Alline began frequenting the Manhattan Club in East St. Louis to hear Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm.
At one time she requested to sing with a band led by a handsome, dapper guitarist who would soon become the profoundly dominant influence in her life. At first Ike Turner refused to entertain her pleas to be allowed to sing with his Kings Of Rhythm – until she grabbed a microphone during a band break, and belted out B B King’s ‘You Know I Love You’. Ike asked her if that was the extent of her repertoire. On finding out that it wasn’t, he let her sing a few more. By the end of the night she was the band’s newest ‘chick singer’.
“I wanted to get up there and sing sooooo bad,” she recalled in “I, Tina: My Life Story” (1986), written with Kurt Loder. “But that took an entire year.” One night, during one of the band’s breaks, the drummer, Eugene Washington, handed her the microphone and she began singing the B.B. King song “You Know I Love You,” which Mr. Turner had produced. “When Ike heard me, he said, ‘My God!’” she told People magazine in 1981. “He couldn’t believe that voice coming out of this frail little body.”
In his book “Takin’ Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner” (1999), written with Nigel Cawthorne, Mr. Turner wrote: “I’d be writing songs with Little Richard in mind, but I didn’t have no Little Richard to sing them, so Tina was my Little Richard. Listen closely to Tina and who do you hear? Little Richard singing in the female voice.”
IkeTurner used her as a backup singer, billed as Little Ann, on his 1958 record “Boxtop.” When Art Lassiter, the group’s lead singer, failed to show up for the recording of “A Fool in Love,” she stepped in. The record was a hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 27 on the pop chart. Ike Turner gave his protégée — who by now was also his romantic partner — a new name, Tina, inspired by the television character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. And he renamed the group the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. For the next 7 years, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue mostly made a living by touring and performing shows.
It was a dynamic, disciplined ensemble, second only to the James Brown Revue, but until “Proud Mary,” in 1970 they never achieved significant crossover success. Up to that point they had only one single in the pop Top 20 in the United States, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” in 1961. The group did generate several hits on the R&B charts, notably “I Idolize You,” “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and “Tra La La La La,” but most of their income came from a relentless touring schedule with the revue.
However luck should have changed in 1966, when record producer Phil Spector, after hearing the Ike and Tina Turner Revue at the Galaxy Club in Los Angeles, offered $20,000 to produce their next song, on condition that Ike Turner stay away from the studio. Spector was impressed by Tina Turner and wanted to use her voice with the Wrecking Crew, and his “Wall of Sound” production technique. He went to the Turners’ house, and struck a deal with Ike Turner to produce Tina. Ike agreed, but wanted the recordings to be credited to Ike & Tina Turner. The result, “River Deep, Mountain High,” is often regarded as the high-water mark of Mr. Spector’s patented “wall of sound.” It initially failed in the United States, barely reaching the Top 100, but it was a huge hit in Britain and on the European continent, where it marked the beginning of a second career for Tina Turner. Ike Turner remarked that “if Phil had released the record and put anybody else’s name on it, it would have been a huge hit. But because Tina Turner’s name was on it, the white stations classified it an R&B record and wouldn’t play it. The white stations say it was too black, and the black stations say it was too white, so that record didn’t have a home. Well Europe did not have the problem that restricted so many colored artists in the US. “River Deep Mountain High became a megahit and made Tina Turner a superstar in other countries except in the US.
“I loved that song,” she wrote in her 1986 memoir. “Because for the first time in my life, it wasn’t just R&B — it had structure, it had a melody.” She added: “I was a singer, and I knew I could do other things; I just never got the opportunity. ‘River Deep’ showed people what I had in me.” It may also have been the reason that in later years Tina Turner decided that living in Europe, rather than in the States, would mean a better life.
Her relationship with Ike Turner, whom she had married in 1962 on a quick trip to Tijuana, Mexico, was turbulent. He was dictatorial, physically abusive and later, hopelessly addicted to cocaine.Before a concert one night in 1968, shortly prior to recording the song that would launch her into superstardom, Tina Turner swallowed sleeping pills and laid down to die. “People backstage noticed something was very wrong with me and rushed me to the hospital, which saved my life,” she writes in her book Happiness Becomes You. “At first I was disappointed when I woke up and realized I was still alive. I thought death was my only chance at escape. But it was not in my nature to stay down for long.”
After the Rolling Stones invited the group to open for them, first on a British tour in 1966 and then on an American tour in 1969, white listeners in both countries began paying attention.
Tina Turner, who insisted on adding rock songs by the Beatles and the Stones to her repertoire, reached an enormous new audience, giving the Ike and Tina Turner Revue its first Top 10 hit with her version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Proud Mary” in 1971 and a Grammy Award for best R&B vocal performance by a group.
“In the context of today’s show business, Tina Turner must be the most sensational professional onstage,” Ralph J. Gleason, the influential jazz and pop critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, wrote in a review of a Rolling Stones concert in Oakland in November 1969. “She comes on like a hurricane. She dances and twists and shakes and sings and the impact is instant and total.”
Most white rock fans knew who Ike & Tina were, but they were perceived to be relics of a bygone era. And then the “Gimme Shelter” movie played. You had to see it. Sure, it was ultimately about Altamont, but this was back in the era when you hungered for any scrap of information about your favorite acts, and video footage was hard to come by, and when there was a film, you went to see it. And Tina Turner stole the movie. It was the way she stroked the microphone during “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” we’d never seen anything like it. Sure, back then people had sex, but it was still behind closed doors, underground, you couldn’t Google it. For the rock acts it was a big thing to swear on your record, or stick out the middle finger in a photograph, both of which were ultimately airbrushed by the company when it found out. But something so overtly sexual? It was JAW-DROPPING! Just like James Brown owned the “T.A.M.I. Show,” Tina Turner owned “Gimme Shelter.” At this point everybody could sing, in this era before tapes, hard drives and Auto-Tune. But performing? Tina made the Stones look quaint. She was a bundle of energy. But she could go nice and slow too. She was an adult when her competitors were children. You were instantly hipped, you knew who Tina Turner was.
The song that helped shoot Tina Turner into the stratosphere was “Proud Mary.” A cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit from 1969, Turner’s sizzling version was released when she was still half of the married duo Ike and Tina Turner—and it was “the single that brought this dynamic group to national attention.” Before that, Turner and her infamously abusive husband were an established act in the world of R&B. The couple had yet to make a big impression on America at large—until “Proud Mary” busted down that door. After the single’s release in January 1971, it rose to No. 4 on Billboard’s pop chart, quickly sold more than 1 million copies, and earned Turner the first of her 12 Grammy Awards. Her delivery of the song has all the fury of James Brown, all the grit of Janis Joplin, all the swagger of the Rolling Stones. In the end, it’s Tina’s soulful ecstasy that sells it.
But the song’s success didn’t just help bring her back to life after her suicide attempt; it also planted the seeds of her liberation as both an artist and a woman. Tina Turner was elbowing her way into the rock and roll boys’ club, fitting herself into what was becoming a more and more homogenous white and male space. She had become rock ’n’ roll and eventually, she would be crowned its queen.
She then focused on a number of current international hits by giving them their own spin and put her hand to songwriting for the next album “Nutbush City Limits.” Within three years of the victory of “Nutbush City Limits,” Tina finally broke away from Ike and went solo. She left him in 1976, with 36 cents and a Mobil gasoline card in her pocket, and divorced him two years later. She was 36, a hard age to start over as an entertainer. She fell out of favor musically for the next few years, scoring no hits of any consequence and playing small bars and lounges to keep herself afloat financially. But rather than fading, though, her career had just begun. The ’80s would see her revive herself yet again, and in so doing, conquer the world.
“When I left, I was living a life of death,” she told People in 1981. “I didn’t exist. I didn’t fear him killing me when I left, because I was already dead. When I walked out, I didn’t look back.”
Her marriage provided much of the material for the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” with Angela Basset and Laurence Fishburne in the lead roles. Ms. Turner rerecorded some of her hits, and a new song, “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” for the film, but otherwise declined to participate. “Why would I want to see Ike Turner beat me up again?” she said at the time.
In the wake of her sensational appearance in the Who’s “Tommy” movie as the Acid Queen in 1975……..1976 came along and then…nothing.
After she walked out on her marriage, encumbered with debt, Ms. Turner struggled to build a solo career, appearing in ill-conceived cabaret acts, before signing with Roger Davies, the manager of Olivia Newton-John, in 1979. Guided by Davies, she returned to the gritty, hard-rocking style that had made her a crossover star and would propel her through the coming decades as one of the most durable performers on the concert stage.
In 1981, a little over 10 years after ‘Nutbush City Limits’ had peaked at # 4 on the U.K. Top 20, Tina finally scored another Top 10 hit here (peak # 6) with Al Green’s 1971 breakthrough hit ‘Let’s Stay Together’.
It would be the first of 40 hits that she would rack up between 1983 and 2020, among them film themes for James Bond and ‘Mad Max’, duets with the likes of Sir Rod Stewart, Barry White, Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Bryan Adams, and the two songs more readily identifiable with her than almost anything she ever recorded with Ike.
A key person in that stratospheric rise was a man named John Carter. Carter worked at Capitol, a lame record company. Capitol was trying. And constantly failing. And then Carter signed Tina Turner.
TINA TURNER? Not only was she history, Carter had no background in Black music, his claim to fame was writing the lyrics for “Incense and Peppermints.” No one thought fortysomething Tina Turner could be on MTV, but we never ever got that far, because everybody firmly believed this was a folly, she’d had her shot, she was done. And the album took YEARS to make. Carter kept talking about it and you’d roll your eyes, you thought it would never come out.
And then it did.
Her fellow artists took notice. In 1982, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, of the band and production company known as the British Electric Foundation, recruited her to record the Temptations’ 1970 hit “Ball of Confusion” for an album of soul and rock covers backed by synthesizers. Although not a success, it led to a second collaboration, a remake of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” A surprise hit in the United States and Britain, it became the turning point that led to “Private Dancer.”
The “Private Dancer” album mixed rock, pop, and soul and featured the hit songs, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Better Be Good to Me” and the title track which was penned by her friend Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame and had her other friend Jeff Beck on lead guitar. And not to forget her interpretation of David Bowie’s 1984.
There she was, on MTV. In that jean jacket and a rooster haircut that put Rod Stewart’s to shame. Tina didn’t look old, she looked wise, experienced, a step above the girls featured on the channel. Furthermore, Tina was SEXY! She was not only comfortable in her body, she knew how to use it. She was beyond charismatic, she was magnetic and knew it.
AND EVERYBODY WAS FLOORED!
After several challenging years of going solo after divorcing Ike Turner, Private Dancer propelled Turner into becoming a viable solo Superstar, as well as one of the most marketable crossover singers in the recording industry. It became a worldwide commercial success, earning multi-platinum certifications. In 2020, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
A 177 date tour to promote the album took place from February 8, 1985, to December 28, 1985. Called the Private Dancer Tour, there were 60 shows in Europe, 105 in North America, 10 in Australia, and 2 in Japan.
The album went on to quickly sell five million copies and ignite a touring career that established Tina Turner as a worldwide phenomenon. In 1988 she appeared before about 180,000 people at the Maracaña Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, breaking a record for the largest paying audience for a solo artist. Guinness World Records announced that she had sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history.
Tina dove deeper into rock. She did a duet with the white hot Bryan Adams on “It’s Only Love,” the two of them emoting with all their powers, but as good as Bryan’s throaty voice is, Tina came in and put the track over the top, sprinkled her magic, pouring lighter fluid on an already burgeoning fire. This wasn’t a cash-in, this delivered. Listen to it today, with the slicing guitar riff and the exclaiming vocals…they don’t even make rock music like this anymore.
She made an impact onscreen as well. Ten years after she solidified her persona as a rock ’n’ roller with a riveting performance as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s film version of “Tommy,” the Who’s rock opera. She also drew enormous praise for her performance as Aunty Entity, the iron-fisted ruler of post apocalyptic Bartertown, in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” in 1985.
That film also provided her with two more hit singles, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “One of the Living,” which was named the best female rock vocal performance at the Grammys in 1986.
Tina Turner did not just do a cameo, she had a full role, and sang the theme song to boot, “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” which transcended the usual soundtrack schmaltz yet still sounded like it was movie music. And when you listened to it, you felt powerful. Still do. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” was a gargantuan hit, everyone saw it, it was part of the culture. As was Ms. Turner. She was a cut above all the rest, she was the best. And unlike today, she never boasted, finally her talent was enough, people got it. Willie Nelson and Tina Turner, two people who’d been working in the trenches for decades who ultimately broke through. But Tina was even bigger than Willie, there was no one bigger than Tina, never mind that big. And since she cut across generations, and musical styles, when she went on tour it was an event, and it wasn’t about production, it was about HER!
In her 12 cylinder musical career Tina Turner followed the runaway success of “Private Dancer” with two more hit albums: “Break Every Rule” (1986) and “Foreign Affair” (1989), which contained the hit single “The Best.”
In 1991 she and Ike Turner, in prison at the time for cocaine possession, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (She was inducted again as a solo artist in 2021). She received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005 and a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2018.
After releasing the album “Twenty Four Seven” in 1999, at age 60 and touring to promote it, grossing $100 million in ticket sales, Tina Turner reluctantly announced her retirement. She told us, but we didn’t believe it. Starting with Frank Sinatra, our modern stars never do call it a day. Even after signing a retirement document in blood. They can’t get that hit of adrenaline, that jolt, that love that they get on stage anywhere else. But Tina Turner retreated to Switzerland and… Really retired. Not forgotten, but not in view. To us it looked like she’d taken her victory lap and gone out on top. Needed no more.
But the first time retirement did not last. In 2008, after performing with Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards, she embarked on an international tour marking her 50th year in the music business.
She announced her retirement again a few years later in her early 70s, but she remained active in other ways. In 2018, she published her second memoir, “My Love Story.”
She and Erwin Bach, her Swiss husband, whom she married in 2013 and moved to Switzerland with, were executive producers of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” a stage show based on her life and incorporating many of her hits, which opened in London in 2018 and in Hamburg and on Broadway in 2019; Ms. Turner worked with the show’s choreographer and shared memories with its writers.
While reviews were mixed, the musical earned 12 Tony Award nominations; Adrienne Warren, who starred as Ms. Turner, won the award for best actress in a leading role. “In a performance that is part possession, part workout and part wig,” Jesse Green wrote in a review for The Times, “Adrienne Warren rocks the rafters and dissolves your doubts about anyone daring to step into the diva’s high heels.”
The show closed after four months because of the Covid pandemic lockdown, reopening in October 2021 before closing again a year later and embarking on a U.S. tour. Through it all however, Ms. Turner’s music endured.
Tina Turner, the earthshaking legendary queen of rock, whose rasping vocals, sexual magnetism and explosive energy made her an unforgettable live performer and one of the most successful recording artists of all time, died on May 24, 2023 at her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, near Zurich. She was 83. She had a stroke in recent years and was known to be struggling with intestinal cancer, a kidney transplant in 2017 and other illnesses.
“This is what I want in heaven… words to become notes and conversations to be symphonies.”- Tina Turner