Pardon us if we imagined the inconceivable: that Tina Turner could survive anything. She was a model in survival in most every other way; it was almost natural to think she would just keep going.
But alas, Turner, one of the most beloved women in rock n’ roll history, is gone at the age of 83.
Here are five moments that have endeared her to the world and especially to strong women everywhere.
In the late 1950s, while still attending high school in East St. Louis, Ill., Anna Mae Bullock, as she was known then, began singing with Ike Turner and his band, the Kings of Rhythm. At first she was only an occasional performer, but she soon became the group’s star attraction—and Mr. Turner’s wife. The band became known as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.
She was introduced to a wide audience when the band was asked to open for the Rolling Stones on a British Tour in 1966 and an American Tour in 1969.
Her 1971 version of “Proud Mary,” a cover of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, was a sensation, becoming the band’s first Top 10 hit, and won a Grammy Award for best R&B vocal performance by a group. Who could forget how she transitioned on that song from “nice and easy” to “nice and rough”?
Her blues-y, raspy voice and her moves on stage prompted Ralph J. Gleason, an influential jazz and pop critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, to write: “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.”
Tina came out from her husband’s shadow in 1984 with the release of Private Dancer. It was her fifth solo album and it was the one that struck gold, making her mark as a viable solo star, as well as one of the most marketable crossover singers in the recording industry.
Her rise was particularly remarkable because she was 45, an age that at the time was considered ancient for a female singer. Still, she was celebrated almost as much for her glamour and those legs as she was for her voice.
Slant Magazine listed the album at number 63 on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980s”, saying, “Both a personal liberation and sonic redemption, Private Dancer established Turner not only as a genuine diva, but a bona fide force of nature.”
Turner culminated her comeback when she won three Grammys, including the award for Record of the Year for “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
In 1985, Turner went Hollywood in her own inimitable way. In the third Mad Max movie, she went toe-to-toe with Mel Gibson as Aunty Entity, the ruthless, Amazon-like figure. Her costume and character were forerunners of the strong female leaders in Black Panther.
Regarding the character, the director George Miller said: “We needed someone whose vitality and intelligence would make her control over Bartertown credible. She had to be a positive character rather than a conventional evil ‘bad guy.’ We had worked on the script with [Turner] in mind. But we had no idea if she’d be interested.”
She was, and she helped carry the film, not just with her acting but the two songs she sang. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” reached number 2 in the US. “One of the Living” won the award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
I, Tina and Tina Turner: My Love Story
In 1986, at the height of her superstardom, Turner released a memoir I, Tina: My Life Story. The book details her story from her childhood in Nutbush, TN to her initial rise to fame in St. Louis. In ground-breaking fashion, she was honest about the abuse she suffered in her marriage to Ike Turner—how Ike discovered her as a teenager, rechristened her Tina, and micromanaged every aspect of her career with the Ike & Tina duo—even withholding her finances. How he beat her with a shoe stretcher while she was pregnant and burned her with scalding coffee. How cocaine made Ike’s mood swings worse, and he took her to a brothel in Tijuana, Mexico, on the night of their wedding.
The book became a worldwide best-seller when it was released.
In 1999, Ike Turner released his own autobiography, Takin’ Back My Name, which in part is a rebuttal of the image presented of him in Tina’s book and the film.
But Tina Turner had the last word. Her autobiography, Tina Turner: My Love Story was released in 2019 and also became a bestseller. Take that, Ike Turner.
What’s Love Got to Do with It
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect combo than Tina Turner and Angela Bassett. But that’s what we got in the bio-pic What’s Love Got to Do With It?, when Bassett—known for her strength of character—captured the resilience and drive of Tina Turner as she navigates her way out of a terrible marriage and on the path to superstardom.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film a four out of four, calling it “a powerful, joyful, raw, energetically acted bio-pic detailing the joys and pain of the on- and offstage lives of blues rockers Ike and Tina Turner.”
Angela Bassett was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Tina Turner.
Just this year, Tina Turner wrote a tribute to Bassett for Time Magazine: “[Your gift is] becoming your character with conviction, truth, dignity, and grace, even when it’s painful, and takes everything you have and more. It’s not just acting, it’s being. Whether you’re Tina Turner or the Queen of Wakanda, we believe in you because you believe in yourself.”
The tributes to Turner, which will now be pouring in, will be equally eloquent you can be sure.