Legendary American musician Tina Turner, one of the most successful recording artists of all time, passed away on Wednesday, aged 83. She leaves behind a legacy full of pioneering moments, first as an African-American woman rock-and-roll artist in the 1960s and ‘70s, and later as a massive pop success in the ‘80s.
She had been suffering from illnesses in recent years — she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2016 and had a kidney transplant in 2017. She passed away in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland.
Turner first propelled to fame through a musical partnership with her former husband Ike Turner. The duo gave evergreen hit songs like ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘Proud Mary’, which was a cover of the band Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song. In 1976, she walked out of the marriage and their professional collaboration after nearly two decades, due to Ike’s abuse and infidelity. She would later go on to document her journey in her her 1986 autobiography I, Tina.
Following her escape from the marriage with Ike, Tina would go on to reinvent herself as one of the defining pop musicians of the ‘80s, with her song ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ standing out as an anthem of the decade.
Early years and success with Ike
Tina was born as Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, to factory worker Zelma Currie and Baptist deacon Floyd Richard Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. Even though she converted to Buddhism later, she would describe herself as a ‘Baptist-Buddhist’ on several occasions.
She was christened ‘Tina’ by Ike — the name apparently reminded him of the cartoon character Sheena from the comic book series Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Ike also had the name ‘Tina Turner’ trademarked in case she left his musical act and he wanted to find a replacement, according to the Guardian. BBC also reported that Ike had changed her name without her permission, an early sign of his attempts to control her.
In 1960, she became the lead vocalist for Ike’s band for the first time with the single ‘A Fool in Love’, which had resounding success on both pop and R&B (rhythm and blues) charts. Earlier christened the ‘Rhythm Kings’, the band now became the ‘Ike and Tina Turner Revue’. It would go on to enjoy widespread success and acclaim, particularly in the R&B circuit. Some of their most popular songs from this period include ‘I Idolise You’, ‘Poor Fool’, ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ and ‘Tra La La La La’.
Tina’s singing prowess and on-stage persona amplified the foundational role of African-American women in the rock and roll genre. She was regarded as an icon by her peers itself: Sir Mick Jagger, frontman of British band The Rolling Stones, has admitted on various occasions that he was inspired by her high kicks and the energy she exuded in her live performances. In 1966, the British band invited the Ike and Tina Turner Revue to open a UK tour for them, and later, in 1969, to join them on their American tour.
Reviewing a Rolling Stones concert in November 1969, influential music critic Ralph J Gleason wrote, “In the context of today’s show business, Tina Turner must be the most sensational professional onstage… She comes on like a hurricane. She dances and twists and shakes and sings and the impact is instant and total.”
Other musicians who performed with the Turners include David Bowie, Sly Stone, Cher, Elvis Presley and Elton John.
It was their collaboration with the Stones that made the duo explore rock and roll. The most famous song of theirs from this genre is the ‘Proud Mary’ cover, but another song that deserves more attention is ‘Nutbush City Limits’, a semi-autobiographical song written by Tina and relased in 1973. It would also be one of the last hits the Turners would give together, with Tina leaving Ike in 1976.
Escape from abusive marriage
In My Love Story (2018), her autobiography, Tina wrote: “My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his moneymaker… He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him”.
In various accounts, Tina has talked about how she got a taste of his unstable and abusive characteristics early on in their relationship, but every time she tried to leave him, he’d either manipulate her or assault her even more.
Ike also got addicted to cocaine in the ‘70s, eventually dying of an overdose in 2007. Tina told People magazine in 1981: “I didn’t fear him killing me when I left, because I was already dead. When I walked out, I didn’t look back.”
After leaving Ike, she had to stay with friends and survive on food stamps — she only had a few cents to her name at this point of her lie. The divorce was finalised in 1978, in which she got only two cars and the rights to her stage name.
Reinvention as a pop icon
Tina started pursuing a solo career after the break-up with Ike, and would finally come back on the mainstream music scene with her fifth album Private Dancer (1984), which contained ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, a song that would eventually find a permament place in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
In Tina, a 2021 documentary film based on her life and directed by Dan Lindsay and T J Martin, the ‘Queen of Rock and Roll’ described Private Dancer as her “debut”. “I don’t consider it a comeback,” she said, adding, “Tina had never arrived.”
Daphne A Brooks, a professor of African American Studies, Theatre Studies, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, wrote in the Guardian in 2018 about Tina: “Yet in the mid-1980s – the outset of her second wind as a solo artist – she was also making history, executing these bold moves as a middle-aged African American female entertainer who had overcome severe personal and professional obstacles to reach the top.”
The success of Private Dancer would also land her opportunities outside the world of music. In 1985, she starred in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome opposite Mel Gibson. Her first memoir, I, Tina, became a global bestseller, and was adapted into a 1993 film titled What’s Love Got to Do with It?, which starred Angela Bassett as Tina. However, Tina refused to participate in the making of the film beyond re-recording a few songs and recording a new one. “Why would I want to see Ike Turner beat me up again?” she had said back then.
In October 2022, toy company Mattel honoured Tina with a Barbie doll based on her, on the 40th anniversary of ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’.
Turner retired from music in 2000, a year after releasing her final album, ‘Twenty Four Seven’. She returned to the stage in 2008, for a Grammy awards performance with Beyoncé, and for a final tour to mark 50 years of her career.
In 2018, she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. She had previously won eight other Grammys in various categories, along with three Grammy of Fame awards, one of which she shared with Ike (who was incarcerated then for cocaine possession).
In 2021 she joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time — in 1991, she had been inducted along with Ike. While inducting her as a solo artist, the Hall of Fame noted how she had “expanded the once-limited idea of how a Black woman could conquer a stage and be both a powerhouse and a multidimensional being”.
Also in 2021, she sold the rights to her music catalogue to the publishing company BMG for $50 million, according to Guardian.
She married German music executive Erwin Bach in July 2013, after 27 years of living together. The same year, she also renounced her American citizenship in order to become a Swiss citizen. Tina and Bach were executive producers of a stage show based on her life, called ‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’. It opened in 2018, and featured several of Tina’s hits, with the musician also working with the show’s choreographer and writers.
Apart from Bach, Tina is survived by two of Ike’s sons, Ike Turner Jr and Michael Turner, whom she adopted. Her own sons, Raymond Craig, and Ronald “Ronnie” Renelle Turner, had passed away before her.