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Tina Turner: Simple church girl who transfigured into the 'goddess of rock & roll' music

Performing Arts

Tina Turner: Simple church girl who transfigured into the 'goddess of rock & roll' music

Friday May 26 2023

Tina Turner was the goddess of rock & roll. FILE PHOTO | POOL

There are few singers and musicians whose deaths touch people around the world in very personal ways: Reggae king Bob Marley, Congolese rumba colossus Franco and Michael Jackson the king of pop.

The death this week of Tina Turner, the goddess of rock & roll, at the age of 83 joins such defining transitions in pop music history.

Tina, as she was affectionately known, was one of the most fascinating figures in the music business, creating a global brand with her signature husky voice, dazzling stage presence, huge hair and of course, sexy legs.

She enjoyed a phenomenal career that has lasted more than 60 years, survived a violent marriage to the man who was also her first partner in music and produced a string of timeless anthems loved by generations of fans around the world.

“There are things you don’t want to say, but there comes a time when you really have to say them,” she said in the 2021 documentary TINA.

Born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Nutbush, Tennessee (the town she immortalised in the 1973 hit song Nutbush City Limits), she sang in her rural hometown’s church choir as a teenager.

After several unsuccessful attempts to join Ike Turner’s band (he initially didn’t think much of her singing) Tina was eventually recruited as a vocalist in the group resulting in their first hit record as Ike and Tina Turner, A Fool in Love in 1960.

Ike, who was seven years older, married her in 1962, and turned Anna Mae into Tina Turner, a name that rhymed with his favourite comic book character, Sheena Queen of Jungle.

Ike and Tina Turner became one of the world’s most famous husband-and-wife R&B/soul music acts of the era.

As former band members recalled, there was hard work, sometimes performing up to four shows a night as Ike obsessively demanded perfection.

Tina revealed details of going from the excruciating pain of beatings she endured from Ike and straight onto stage for a show.

“I felt obligated to stay there, I was loyal to Ike,” she said. As a young girl in her early 20s, she was caught up in a mix of fear and guilt ‘After he beat me up, I would feel sorry for him,” she admitted.

In 1981, Tina Turner for the first time publicly spoke about the violence she suffered at the hands of her husband Ike for the 16 years they were married.

“I was living a life of death, I didn’t exist, but I survived,” she told the People Magazine.

Ike, who died in 2007, was a domineering figure who controlled every aspect of her life and music.


Tina Turner was the goddess of rock & roll. FILE PHOTO | POOL

She enjoyed a new sense of creative and emotional freedom while recording the classic River Deep Mountain High with legendary producer Phil Spector.

‘I felt like a bird that could sing a different type of song,’ she said.

She embraced Buddhism and credited her faith for turning her hardships into a mission to build happiness and inspire other people to do the same.

In 1976, Tina fled from the abusive Ike and when the divorce was finalised two years later, she left penniless but retained the most powerful asset in her opinion: the name, Tina Turner.

“To keep the name is to reclaim, reshape it, refine and a message to Ike, ‘You gave me this name but watch what I build with it,’” says Katori Hall, writer of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

Oprah Winfrey, a self-confessed Tina Turner groupie in her youth, compares watching her idol to being overcome with religious fervour. “I remember watching her and saying, ‘Whatever that is, I want some of that’”.

In the 1980s, Tina Turner, then in her 40s, roared back into the pop charts with her career anthem What’s Love Got to Do with It from the 1984 album Private Dancer.

She fulfilled her dream of packing huge concert venues, including a historic show in 1988 attended by 186,000 fans at the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “I was my own boss,” she declared.

Tina also starred opposite Mel Gibson in the Hollywood blockbuster Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985 and published her bestselling memoir I, Tina in 1986.

The story was turned into the film What’s Love Got to Do with It starring Angela Bassett in 1993.

Tina announced her retirement in 2000, a year after releasing her final solo album Twenty-Four Seven and in a final act of passing the torch, she performed with Beyonce at the Grammy Awards in 2008.

In recent years, Tina has kept a low profile at her home in Switzerland after she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2016 and had a kidney transplant in 2017.

As she told Harvard Business Review in 2021, the most important lesson life taught her was to choose hope over despair because “winter always turns to spring”.

In the words of her signature song, Tina Turner, was “simply the best”.

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