Singer Tina Turner, whose soul classics and pop hits like “The Best” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It” made her a musical superstar, died Wednesday at the age of 83.
Turner has had a series of health problems in recent years, including cancer, stroke and kidney failure.
She rose to fame alongside husband Ike in the 1960s with songs like “Proud Mary” and “River Deep, Mountain High”.
After divorcing the abusive Ike in 1978, she found even more success as a solo artist in the 1980s.
Dubbed the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Tina Turner was famous for her sassy and energetic stage performances, with husky and powerful vocals.
She has won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 as a solo artist, first being inducted alongside Ike in 1991.
Tina Turner’s raspy alto and sassy stage presence made her one of the best-known singers of her generation.
But to get there, it’s been a long and often painful journey from a troubled childhood in rural Tennessee to global stardom.
She was almost 40 years old when she managed to break free from an abusive relationship to establish herself as a solo artist.
Tina Turner recorded a string of bestselling albums, won awards and became one of music’s most popular live performers.
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939 in the small rural town of Nutbush, Tennessee. Her father, Floyd, worked on a local farm.
She had a troubled childhood. Tina and her older sister Aillene were separated when their parents moved to work in a munitions factory, and young Anna Mae went to live with religious grandparents.
When the family was reunited after the war, Anna Mae began singing at a local Baptist church.
Her mother abandoned her when she was just 11 years old, and two years later, when her father remarried, Anna and her sister were taken to live with their grandmother in Brownsville, Tennessee.
She became a cheerleader at her local high school, played basketball, and had a busy social life. Upon graduating in 1958, she took a job at a hospital in St. Louis. Louis, Missouri, and decided to become a nurse.
It was at a nightclub, where she and her sister spent the night, that she saw Ike Turner perform for the first time with his band, The Kings of Rhythm.
Ike was already established as a performer and musician. His band was one of the biggest draws on the R&B club circuit.
One night, during a break, Anna Mae was given the microphone — and her performance so impressed him that she was asked to sing with the band.
At the time, she was in a relationship with the band’s saxophonist, Raymond Hill, with whom she had a son, Raymond.
She made her first recording as a backing singer in 1958, but her big break came just two years later on a song called “Fool in Love”, written by Turner.
When lead vocalist Art Lassiter failed to show up for the recording, Anna Mae was asked to fill in, with the intention that her vocals would later be removed.
But a DJ who heard the demo was so impressed that he passed it on to a local label.
Ike was encouraged to put his protégée ahead of the band and persuaded her to change her name to Tina, a move he later said was designed to prevent ex-boyfriends from tracking her down.
“Fool in Love” reached number 27 on the Billboard charts and the follow-up, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine”, reached the top 20 and earned the duo a Grammy.
By this time, she was in a relationship with Ike, who had been divorced from his fifth wife. The two were finally married in 1962.
The newly named Ike and Tina Turner Revue went on the road for the better part of three successful years without having the benefit of a hit single to back them up.
Tina has also made solo US television appearances on shows such as American Bandstand and Shindig.
Producer Phil Spector, impressed by Tina’s voice, convinced her to enter the studio to record “River Deep, Mountain High”.
Worried that Ike, whose controlling tendencies were well known, would try to dominate the recording, Spector paid him to stay away from the studio.
escape two abuses
The album, which featured Spector’s famous “wall of sound”, was credited to Ike and Tina Turner, although Tina’s voice was the only one. Initially, it did not do well in the US, but became a huge hit in the UK.
It was enough for the Rolling Stones to ask the Revue to support a UK tour, and that led to new dates in Europe and a bigger audience.
When the Stones toured the United States, the Turners were again invited to support the band, which earned them a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Two years later, the couple released their biggest American single with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary.
In 1973 Tina traveled to London to give a critically acclaimed performance as the Queen of Acid in Ken Russell’s bombastic film about Pete Townshend’s rock opera “Tommy”.
That same year, the duo had their last big hit, “Nutbush City Limits”—but their personal relationship was on the wane.
By the mid-1970s, Ike was heavily dependent on alcohol and cocaine, and his controlling attitude towards his wife’s life and career had escalated into physical abuse in the home.
He beat her with a wire turnbuckle while she was pregnant and burned her with scalding coffee. In July 1976, Tina ran off with just a few bucks in her purse and spent months hiding out with friends while she sued Ike for divorce.
Backed financially by a record label executive friend, she set out on a series of solo tours that established her as an artist in her own right. She found it difficult at first.
“A lot of people thought Tina Turner was history,” she told German Vogue. “They only knew Ike and Tina Turner and they didn’t understand what was going on. So I had to test myself.”
After two albums designed to make the charts failed, she reinvented herself with a much edgier sound that landed shows with Rod Stewart and another tour with the Rolling Stones.
His 1983 hit “Let’s Stay Together” was the start of a career renaissance. An album, Private Dancer, recorded in London, spawned seven chart hits and launched a massive world tour.
She was back on screen two years later as Aunty Entity in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”, and contributed to songs on the film’s soundtrack, including the theme song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero”.
She seemed to do little wrong, hit after hit, and she played sold-out tours throughout the 1980s.
Success continued into the next decade, including a recording of “GoldenEye”, the theme song to the first James Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan.
At the turn of the century, and at the age of 61, she announced that she was entering semi-retirement.
Tina Turner has been hailed as a feminist icon, and in 2003, she attended the Kennedy Center Honors evening, where stars like Oprah Winfrey, Al Green and Beyoncé joined President George Bush in paying their respects.
In 2020, she released an updated version of “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”. At the time, she entered the UK top 40, making her the first artist to achieve the feat in seven separate decades.
A year later, Turner sold the rights to her work to BMG Rights for more than $50 million and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Before she died, Tina Turner was the subject of a musical in London’s West End that told the story of her incredible life.
She was once asked what had driven her through the years of struggle and abuse.
“I stayed on track from beginning to end,” she said, “because I believed in something inside me that told me this could get better.”
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