Tina Turner, who has passed away at the age of 83, was the possessor of a husky contralto and raunchy stage presence that made her one of the best-known singers of her generation.
It was a long and often painful journey from a troubled childhood in rural Tennessee to global stardom. She was almost 40 before she broke free from her relationship with Ike Turner to establish herself as a solo artist. But she went on to record a string of best-selling albums, garner a host of awards and become one of music’s most popular live acts.
Tina was born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939 in the small rural town of Nutbush, Tennessee and started singing in a local Baptist church. On graduating in 1958 she got a job at a hospital in St Louis, Missouri and set out to become a nurse.
It was in a nightclub, where she and her sister had gone for the evening, that she first saw Ike Turner perform with his band, The Kings of Rhythm. During an interval one night, Anna Mae was offered the microphone – and her performance so impressed him that it led to her being asked to sing with the band.
She made her first recording as a backing singer in 1958, but her big chance came two years later on a song called Fool in Love, penned by Turner. When his lead singer, 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, he passed it on to a local record label.
Ike was encouraged to put his protege in the front of the band and persuaded her to change her name to Tina. Fool in Love reached number 27 in the Billboard charts and the follow-up, It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, hit the top 20 and won the duo a Grammy. By now, she was in a relationship with Ike and the couple finally married in 1962.
The newly dubbed Ike and Tina Turner Revue went on the road for the best part of three successful years without having the benefit of a hit single to back them up. Tina also made solo appearances on US television in shows like American Bandstand and Shindig.
Producer Phil Spector, impressed by Tina’s voice, persuaded her into the studio to record River Deep, Mountain High. The record, featuring Spector’s famous “wall of sound”, was credited to Ike and Tina Turner although Tina’s was the only voice. It did not initially 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 back a UK tour, and that led to further European dates and a bigger audience. When the Stones toured the US, the Turners were again asked to support the band, which gained them a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Two years later, the couple had their biggest American hit single with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s Proud Mary.
In 1973, Tina travelled to London to make a critically acclaimed performance as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s bombastic film of Pete Townshend of The Who‘s rock opera Tommy. In the same year, the duo had their last big hit, Nutbush City Limits.
Tina’s 1983 hit Let’s Stay Together was the beginning of a career revival. An album, Private Dancer, recorded in London, spawned seven chart hits and launched a major 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.
Success continued through the following decade, including a recording of GoldenEye, the theme song for the first James Bond film to star Pierce Brosnan. At the turn of the century, and at the age of 61, she announced she was going into semi-retirement.
Tina Turner was hailed as a feminist icon and, in 2003, attended the Kennedy Center Honours evening where stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Al Green and Beyonce joined President George Bush to pay tribute.
She made a comeback in 2008, singing at the Grammy Awards and setting out on tour to celebrate her 50 years as a singer. Despite the advance of time, her energy seemed undiminished and the voice as strong as ever.
In 2013, at the age of 73, she became the oldest person ever to feature on the cover of Vogue magazine. “I will never give in to old age until I’m old,” she said. “And I’m not old yet.”
Before she died Tina Turner found herself 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 on through the years of struggle and abuse. “I stayed on course from the beginning to the end,” she said, “because I believed in something inside of me that told me that it can get better.”
Tina Turner b. November 26, 1939 d. May 24, 2023
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