May 24, 2023
She was the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, the Acid Queen, Auntie Entity, an eight-time Grammy Award winner and one of the 20th century's most iconic live performers.
On May 24, 2023, Tina Turner, who had long battled issues including intestinal cancer and kidney failure that required a transplant, died at 83 at home in Switzerland, her adopted homeland.
Born November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee, Anna Mae Bullock and her family lived in nearby Nutbush. She and her siblings picked cotton and were bounced around to different homes, with Anna Mae being raised by her grandparents and then an aunt, her mother having left.
She lived with her mom as an older teen in St. Louis, but not for long.
With her sister, she hit up St. Louis nightclubs. In 1957, she spied future husband Ike Turner performing with the Kings of Rhythm and impressed him with her raw vocals when she impulsively grabbed the mic and sang. She was invited to sing with his band and began her recording career in 1958 as "Little Ann."
Rebranded as Tina Turner — Tina as tribute to popular character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and Turner to reflect Ike's possession of her persona — her career first took off in 1960 with the self-written hit single “A Fool in Love.”
Turner enjoyed a string of Billboard hits and received a Grammy nomination, for "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" (1961).
It was around that time that Ike — who would go on to marry her to further keep her under his thumb — created the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and launched a successful tour. The couple became a renowned live act, and Turner was already displaying a trademark wild performance style that distinguished her from every other female vocalist working.
Signed to a deal by producer Phil Spector, the couple's "River Deep — Mountain High" was released in 1966. Incredibly, it flopped in the U.S, though is now a universally revered landmark recording.
Ike & Tina opened for the Stones, forging a lifelong friendship between Tina and frontman Mick Jagger, and Tina became the first Black artist and first woman on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967.
Working tirelessly and spitting out albums and TV appearances, the couple was rock royalty by in the '70s, logging another indelible hit with "Proud Mary" (1971), along with many rock covers that allowed them to cross over in the highly segregated music world.
"Nutbush City Limits" was a hit for the duo in 1973, a highly personal story of Tina's early years that was even more successful abroad.
Tina made her acting debut in the acclaimed movie version of the rock opera Tommy in 1976, playing the Acid Queen, and had two solo albums under her belt by then.
After years of enduring controlling behavior and physical abuse from Ike, Tina left him in 1976, famously walking out with just 36 cents and a Mobil card to her name, divorcing him in 1978.
To pay the bills, Turner did TV work and made appearances in Las Vegas, but more solo work went unnoticed.
Leading up to her reemergence as a musical force in 1984, Turner cut a cover of the Temptations hit "Ball of Confusion" that found her on MTV — among the only Black artists to break the color barrier.
Her cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (1983) led to a solo album for a new label, Capitol. Private Dancer, an album that leaned far more heavily into the pop arena than she ever had, was released in 1984, and became a massive hit thanks to the no. 1 status of the single "What's Love Got to Do with It." A new, spiky-haired look, a spotlight on her famous legs, and undeniably fresh material allowed Turner to make perhaps rock's greatest comeback, at 44.
Turner's album — selected for preservation for its significance by the Library of Congress in 2020 — spawned five Top 40 hits and went 5X platinum, winning Turner three Grammys. She instantly went from cabaret legacy act to touring stadiums and arenas.
Continuing her acting career, Turner starred as Aunty Entity in the 1985 smash Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which spawned her soundtrack hits "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" and "One of the Living." At the same time, she sang on USA for Africa's "We Are the World," performed at Live Aid with Mick Jagger, and cut yet another hit single in the form of "It's Only Love," a duet with Bryan Adams.
Turner's next album, Break Every Rule (1986), was another winner, containing the hits "Typical Male," "Two People," and "What You Get Is What You See."
In spite of her stardom, Turner released just three more studio albums: Foreign Affair (1989), Wildest Dreams (1996) and Twenty Four Seven (1999), preferring to tour. Her 1990 greatest-hits set Simply the Best became one of the top-selling for any solo artist, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year, alongside Ike. Her ex was in prison, and Turner was on top of the world.
Tina Turner's success was rooted in her musical genius, but powered by her personal story. Along with publishing a best-selling autobiography called I, Tina (1986), she was the subject of the dramatic film What's Love Got to Do with It (1993), in which Angela Bassett played Turner in a story that focused on surviving Ike's abuse. Bassett was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress for her performance.
The film's soundtrack contained her final Top 10 hit in the U.S., "I Don't Wanna Fight," which hit no. 9 in 1993. In 1995, she sang the Bond theme "GoldenEye."
Following her 2000 world tour, the legend retired. She returned to live performing in 2008, touring one last time in celebration of her then 50 years in show biz. When that tour ended, she retired from live performing for good, seeking to spend her time doing other things.
Among her many honors, Turner was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2005.
Though clearly ailing and long removed from public life, Turner made a surprise appearance on the opening night of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical in 2019 on Oprah Winfrey's arm. "This musical is my life, but it's like poison that turned to medicine," she said from the stage. "I can never be as happy as I am now."
Turner was preceded in death by her eldest son, Craig, who took his own life in 2018, and by her second son, Ronnie, who died of cancer in December. She is survived by her husband of 10 years Erwin Bach, and by Ike Turner's children, who she raised as her own, as well as by two grandchildren.