Simply The Best: Tina Turner Dies at 83

Simply The Best: Tina Turner Dies at 83
(AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz, file)

Our family often spent Saturday nights in our finished basement, singing and dancing to 45s of Motown and R&B artists. One of my favorite songs was “Proud Mary” by the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. I had no idea who Creedence Clearwater Revival was at that time, but I knew Tina Turner. Sometimes I would don one of my mother’s wigs and a slip, and pretend to perform Turner’s wild and wonderful dance moves. She performed a shorter version of it on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1970. This was quite groundbreaking; if you remember Elvis Presley’s 1956 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, they had to film him from the waist up in order to cut out his gyrating hips and get past the morality censors.

This was the power of Turner’s electrifying voice and performance. They cut nothing.

 

As an adult, I related to Turner in her struggle, first for her very survival and life, and then for a career that she defined and controlled. People often respond in two ways to unique and powerful voices: squelch them or control them. Turner experienced both, and found a way to not only unleash her voice and allow it to forge its own place, but she created a niche all her own and inspired others to find their voices. Turner represented this with pitch-perfect vocals, raw sexuality, and hard work, coupled with an unbridled precision, performance, and passion.

Turner also represented second acts. Her long and storied career did not reach the stratosphere until her mid-40s after decades of performing and her unhappy and violent marriage to Ike Turner. Turner’s rise, literally like a Phoenix from the ashes, represented empowerment, an overcomer’s spirit, and the gold standard for every person or artist who has been told, “you’re through,” “your life is over,” or “you’ll never be enough.”

Sadly, like any brightly, shining star, it must burn out, and Turner’s now has. On Wednesday, Tina Turner passed away after a long illness. She was 83 years old.

From The Guardian:

Tina Turner, the pioneering Rock ’n’ Roll star who became a pop behemoth in the 1980s, has died aged 83 after a long illness.

She had suffered ill health in recent years, being diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2016 and having a kidney transplant in 2017.

Turner affirmed and amplified Black women’s formative stake in rock’n’roll, defining that era of music to the extent that Mick Jagger admitted to taking inspiration from her high-kicking, energetic live performances for his stage persona. After two decades of working with her abusive husband, Ike Turner, she struck out alone and – after a few false starts – became one of the defining pop icons of the 1980s with the album Private Dancer. Her life was chronicled in three memoirs, a biopic, a jukebox musical, and in 2021, the acclaimed documentary film, Tina.

In a statement on Wednesday night, her publicist Bernard Doherty said: “Tina Turner, the ‘Queen of Rock’n Roll’ has died peacefully today at the age of 83 after a long illness in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model.”

Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee on November 26, 1939, where, like many Black families in the South, she picked cotton as part of a sharecropping family. Like many of the Black artists of that day, Turner cut her musical chops in the church choir and managed to work herself into Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm band.

After her vocal talents became apparent, Ike gave her the name Tina Turner – and trademarked it in case she left him and he wanted to replace her in his act. He quickly became abusive: when Turner tried to leave the group early on after having got a sense of his mercurial character, he hit her with a wooden shoe stretcher.

“My relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out I was going to be his moneymaker,” Turner wrote in her 2018 biography My Love Story. “He needed to control me, economically and psychologically, so I could never leave him.”

That’s painful to even read, let alone experience.

She made her recorded debut under the name with the Ike and Tina Turner single A Fool in Love in July 1960, which broke the US Top 30 and started a run of respectable chart success. But it was their live performances that made them a sensation. Ike toured the Ike and Tina Turner Revue aggressively on the Chitlin’ Circuit – including in front of desegregated audiences, such was their commercial power. In 1964, they signed to Warner Bros imprint Loma Records, which released their first album to chart: Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show.

In the second half of the 60s, the duo were courted by many of rock’s biggest names. Phil Spector produced the 1966 single River Deep – Mountain High; they supported the Rolling Stones in the UK and later the US, and stars including David Bowie, Sly Stone, Cher, Elvis Presley and Elton John came to their Las Vegas residency.

They were a chart-making, Grammy-winning force in the 1970s – a run that came to an end when Turner left Ike, who had been consistently violent and unfaithful, in 1976.

Turner’s flight from her marriage was as dramatic as her stage performances. In 1976, on the eve of the Fourth of July, Ike gave her a beatdown in the limousine when they departed Dallas airport. The difference this time was that Turner fought back. Once at a Dallas hotel, Turner waited until Ike had fallen asleep. Both Turner and Ike attested that he had been on a five-day cocaine binge, so he crashed, and crashed hard. Turner fled the room, running across the highway Interstate 30 on foot, narrowly avoiding getting run over by a truck, and straight into a Ramada Inn. Her suit bloodied, with dark sunglasses in an attempt to cover her swollen eyes, Turner told the desk clerk that she had a fight with her husband and asked for a room. The clerk gave her safe haven. According to reports, that Ramada is now the Lorenzo Hotel. Al DeBerry, managing director at the Lorenzo said once the building changed hands in 2006, it was gutted and renovated. But to this day, there is a large portrait of Tina Turner hung in the lobby.

Divorced in 1978, the only thing Turner gained beside her freedom was two cars and her stage name. But she chose to make her name her calling card. “That is when I realized I could use Tina to become a business,” Turner said in a 2017 documentary. From there she worked hard, partly because she had to. Ike Turner had saddled her with most of the debt from the blown Ike and Tina Turner Revue tour, as well as the care of their four sons. Turner was a champion, doing musical performances and appearances on the talk and variety shows of the time, like this one on the Cher show.

 

Turner released seven recordings that received lackluster response but continued to pursue her place in Rock ‘N Roll. Her fifth album, 1984’s Private Dancer, is the one that separated her from the Ike and Tina Turner Revue days, and established her as her own brand. The single, “What’s Love Got to Do with It” spent three weeks at No. 1, and two other singles on the album, “Private Dancer,” and “Better Be Good to Me.” also topped the charts. In the 2017 documentary Tina, Turner described the release of Private Dancer as her debut and not a comeback. “I don’t consider it a comeback. ‘Tina’ had never arrived.”

That was the beginning of a trajectory that only continued to rise. Turner was among the few Black, female artists who appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, first in 1967. Turner has graced the cover no less than seven times, in 1969, 1971 (with Ike Turner), 1984, 1985 (with Mel Gibson), 1986, and 1997 (with Courtney Love and Madonna). She won eight Grammys and was nominated multiple times in multiple categories, also appearing in films like The Who’s Tommy in 1978, and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Turner sang the film’s title song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).” Turner also sang the theme for the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye. 

Turner announced her retirement in 2000, a year after releasing her final solo album, Twenty Four Seven, though she would return to the stage in 2008, performing at the Grammy awards with Beyoncé, and for a final tour to mark 50 years of her career.

Turner’s final concert performance of her tour was on May 5, 2009 in Sheffield, England. Unlike Cher and others, she did not make any additional “farewell tours.” Turner’s voluminous career and life story have been documented many times over, first in the 1986 book, I, Tina, where Turner credited her Buddhist faith and her practice of chanting in helping her create the power to escape a hellish marriage and build a new life. This book was turned into the 1993 feature film, What’s Love Got To Do With It, starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.

In 2017, Turner helped produce the documentary Tina, which gives more depth and paints a more detailed portrait of her volatile and destructive marriage to Ike Turner and her triumphant return to the stage as a singular and matchless talent. Tina wrote the 2018 biography My Love Story, as well as collaborated on Tina, The Musical. It premiered in 2018 and received 12 Tony Award nominations. Adrienne Warren, who originated the role on Broadway and on London’s West End, won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical and the Laurence Olivier award for the same.

Turner collaborated on the musical Tina with Phyllida Lloyd, which premiered in 2018 and won Laurence Olivier and Tony awards for its respective West End and Broadway runs. “This musical is not about my stardom,” Turner said of the production. “It is about the journey I took to get there. Each night I want audiences to take away from the theatre that you can turn poison into medicine.”

Turner is survived by her second husband, German music executive Erwin Bach, who is 17 years her junior. Turner and Bach had been together for 27 years, and married in 2013. Turner is also survived by Ike Turner’s two sons: Ike, Jr. and Michael, whom she adopted as her own. Her first child, Craig Raymond Turner, died in 2018. Turner lost her second son Ronnie in 2021. In speaking to the Guardian, Turner said that despite walking through serious health problems (a 2016 battle with intestinal cancer, and a kidney replacement in 2017), the last 10 years of her life had embodied her ideal vision of happiness.

“True and lasting happiness comes from having an unshakeable, hopeful spirit that can shine, no matter what,” she said. “That’s what I’ve achieved, and it is my greatest wish to help others become truly happy as well.”

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