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Tina Turner

Tina Turner

One of the most dynamic performers in the history of popular music, Tina Turner was a powerhouse vocalist who won and lost fame in the 1960s and '70s before a spectacular comeback in the '80s made her an enduring superstar. Tina first made her name as an R&B shouter performing with her first husband, Ike Turner, and on early hits like "A Fool in Love" and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," she displayed a passion and grit that easily stood up to one of America's tightest bands. Ike & Tina crossed over to the pop audience with their raucous cover of "Proud Mary," but their rising stardom came as Ike fell into drug addiction and violent spousal abuse. In 1976, Tina left Ike and went solo, and after years of struggle and reinvention, she struck gold with 1984's Private Dancer, which blended her fiery but versatile vocals with up-to-date production and became a multi-platinum success on the strength of the hit singles "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Better Be Good to Me," and the title track. Subsequent international touring reinforced her successful return to the spotlight and she would be a frequent visitor to the sales charts and a top live attraction through the rest of her career. Tina proved she was still a draw even after retirement, thanks to a successful jukebox musical based on her life and music.

Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee. Her father was the overseer at a sharecropping farm, and she and her siblings helped pick cotton when they were young. Her parents had a tumultuous relationship, and when they moved to Knoxville to work in a defense plant during World War II, Anna Mae was sent to live with her paternal grandparents in Nutbush, Tennessee. After the war, Anna Mae rejoined her family in Knoxville, but when she was 11, her mother walked out on her husband, and when he remarried and moved to Detroit two years later, Anna Mae and her sisters moved to Brownsville, Tennessee to live with their maternal grandmother. Anna Mae had learned to sing when she joined the choir at her church, and in high school she became a cheerleader and played on the girl's basketball team while working as a domestic for a wealthy family to make extra money. Anna Mae was 16 when her grandmother died, and she joined her mother in St. Louis, where she graduated from high school and took a job as a nurse's aide at a local hospital.

Anna Mae wanted more from life than hospital work, and she aspired to become an entertainer. She and her sisters began visiting night clubs in East St. Louis where leading rhythm & blues bands performed. One of the town's biggest stars was Ike Turner, a guitarist, bandleader, and songwriter who fronted his own band, the Kings of Rhythm, and cut a hit record in 1951, "Rocket 88," credited to Jackie Brenston, Turner's sax player who sang lead on the tune. (Years later, "Rocket 88" would frequently be cited as the first proper rock & roll record.) Ike was looking to score a hit under his own name, and was barnstorming clubs throughout the South when not playing in St. Louis. In 1957, Anna Mae asked drummer Eugene Washington to give her a chance to sing a song between sets. Washington handed her the microphone, and she sang "You Know I Love You," a ballad that had been a recent hit for B.B. King. Ike asked Anna Mae if she knew any more songs, and she sang most of the next set with the band. He quickly invited her to join the Kings of Rhythm as their featured vocalist, and he began teaching her the finer points of singing and stagecraft. In 1958, she cut her first record, "Boxtop," where she was credited as Little Ann, and Ike soon gave her a new stage name, Tina Turner, with the first name inspired by the popular TV and comic book heroine Sheena of the Jungle, and the last name suggesting they were a couple, which they soon were. (They would marry in 1962.)

In 1960, Ike and his band were cutting a song called "A Fool in Love," and when Art Lassiter, who was to sing lead on the track, failed to show up, he suggested Tina handle the vocals instead. While the recording was initially meant to be a demo, a St. Louis disc jockey was impressed by Tina's powerful performance, and referred Ike to the president of Louisiana-based Sue Records, who issued the recording as a single. "A Fool in Love," credited to Ike & Tina Turner, became a major hit, rising to number two on the R&B charts, and despite the song's raw, forceful sound, it also cracked the pop charts, peaking at number 27. The follow-up, "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," fared even better, also hitting number two R&B and number 14 pop. On the strength of the hits, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue relentlessly toured the R&B circuit; they developed a reputation as one of the most exciting and energetic bands in the land, and Tina was cited as a powerhouse singer and a tremendously charismatic performer.

The Ike & Tina Turner Revue packed houses across the nation, were frequent visitors to the R&B charts, and stole the show in the 1966 concert film The Big T.N.T. Show, but were having trouble making an impact on the pop market. They saw an opportunity to change that when Phil Spector signed them to his Philles label. The star producer recruited Tina to sing lead on "River Deep, Mountain High," a song he intended to be his greatest achievement and the pinnacle of his Wall of Sound production style. (To Ike's chagrin, Spector locked him out of the sessions.) The single was hailed by critics and became a major hit in the United Kingdom and Europe, but in the United States, it never rose higher than Number 88 on the pop charts; the accompanying album would not be released in the United States until 1969 (when Spector reissued the single after striking a deal with A&M Records). Spector, crushed by the song's failure to connect with American listeners, dropped out of music for several years, which briefly left Ike & Tina in limbo. Late in the year, Ike & Tina were invited to tour the United Kingdom as an opening act for the Rolling Stones, and when the Stones came to America in 1969 for what was one of the year's most anticipated tours, they once again tagged Ike & Tina to share the bill. Tina's impassioned and suggestive performance of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" was a highlight of the documentary film Gimme Shelter, shot during the Stones' 1969 American road trip.

As they became more popular with rock audiences, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue began adding more covers of familiar rock songs to their setlists, and they took the strategy into the studio. The gambit paid off in 1971, when their electrifying take on Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" finally gave them a major break onto radio and the pop charts, where it peaked at Number 4. They enjoyed another pop hit in 1973 with "Nutbush City Limits," a tale inspired by Tina's home town that rose to Number 22 Pop and was later covered by Bob Seger. The Ike & Tina Turner Revue was also selling out venues in America, the U.K., and Europe, and the act was finally reaping major financial rewards. However, Ike & Tina's relationship had always been difficult; he was prone to mental and physical abuse, and fame, wealth, and Ike's growing addiction to cocaine only made matters worse as Tina's life offstage became a nightmare. Knowing Tina was the focus of the show, Ike had urged her into a solo career, and produced her first solo album, a C&W-oriented set titled Tina Turns the Country On! in 1974. In 1975, Tina was cast as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell's film adaptation of the Who's rock opera Tommy, and her vivid performance was a hit with critics and fans; the acclaim inspired Tina's second solo LP, 1975's Acid Queen.

On July 1,1976, Tina Turner had finally had enough. She and Ike had flown to Dallas, Texas for a concert engagement, and after an altercation with Ike once again turned physical, she walked away, with only 36¢ in change and a gas station credit card to her name. A friend loaned her the money to stay at a Ramada Inn, and on July 27, she filed for divorce. It would be two years before the divorce became final, and with lawyer's fees and her share of debts from canceled shows to pay, Tina took whatever work she could get. She appeared frequently on television, appearing on everything from Hollywood Squares to Donny & Marie, and played Las Vegas showrooms and cabarets as she struggled to re-establish herself as a solo act. In 1978, she issued a solo album for United Artists (Ike & Tina's label during their most successful years), Rough, which moved her into a disco-funk sound. Sales of the album were unimpressive, and when 1979's Love Explosion fared no better, UA dropped her contract. Tina got by on live work, touring frequently and in 1979, she played a five-week run in South Africa, a decision she came to bitterly regret.

In 1979, Tina began working with a new manager, Roger Davies, who sought to get her better bookings. In 1981, longtime fan Rod Stewart had Tina join him for a performance of "Hot Legs" on Saturday Night Live, and old friend Mick Jagger helped her land a booking to open several dates for the Rolling Stones. In 1981, B.E.F. (aka the British Electrical Foundation), an offshoot of the British synth pop group Heaven 17, were compiling an album of soul and pop covers, Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol. 1. Tina was one of a number of guest vocalists on the project, and her performance of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" was one of the singles released from the LP. The track got plenty of airplay in the U.K., and a music video was created for the song, which went into rotation on the fledgling cable outlet MTV. The following year, Tina signed a new record deal with Capitol, and B.E.F. produced her first single for the label, her interpretation of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." The single went Top Ten in the U.K., and broke through in the United States, rising to Number 3 on the Hot Black Singles chart and Number 26 on the Pop Hot 100.

With a hit single to support, Tina began work on an album, and while her budget only allowed her two weeks in the studio, Private Dancer, a savvy mix of pop, rock, and R&B sounds that favored the warmth and grit of Tina's voice, became a runaway hit after it's release in May 1984. The album sold over five million copies in the United States alone, peaked at number three on the Top 200 albums chart, and spawned three more major hit singles: "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Better Be Good to Me," and the title track. After wowing audiences as Lionel Richie's opening act on an American tour, she set out as a headliner as Private Dancer scaled the charts, and once again lived up to her reputation as one of the most dynamic stars of the day. She took home three Grammys in 1985, including Record of the Year for "What's Love Got to Do with It," and performed the tune of the show's broadcast, with Tina in superb form despite the fact she was fighting a case of the flu. That year, she also lent her vocals to the hit charity single "We Are the World" by USA for Africa, and appeared at the international benefit concert Live Aid, where she sang a lively duet with Mick Jagger on "State of Shock" and "It's Only Rock & Roll."

The fierce image Tina projected inspired filmmaker George Miller to cast her as Aunty Entity, the ruler of a dystopian city, in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. In addition to garnering strong reviews for her acting, she recorded two songs for the soundtrack that became hit singles, "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" and "One of the Living." The latter earned her another Grammy award, for Best Female Vocal Rock Performance. 1986 brought the follow-up to Private Dancer, Break Every Rule, another international success that included guest spots from Steve Winwood, Phil Collins, and Mark Knopfler. It produced three hit singles -- "Typical Male," "Two People," and "What You See Is What You Get" -- while "Back Where You Started" gained her another Grammy Award Best Female Vocal Rock Performance. Her North American tour in support of the album was a hit, and a concert in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, attracted a whopping 180,000 fans. Tina also added "Best-Selling Author" to her résumé with the publication of I, Tina, a memoir she co-wrote with Kurt Loder.

Tina's European tour in support of Break Every Rule was documented on the 1988 album Tina Live in Europe, and her next studio set, Foreign Affair, arrived in 1989. While not as popular in the United States as her previous two LPs, it included the single "The Best," which became one of her signature songs, and the LP would go on to sell over six million copies worldwide. More touring followed, including a run of dates in Europe that sold more than four million tickets, and in 1991 she issued Simply the Best, a collection of her hits of the '80s that also included "River Deep, Mountain High" and a new recording of "Nutbush City Limits." That same year, Ike & Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Ike was behind bars at the time and could not attend, while Tina was resting up after a tour and opted not to come to the United States for the ceremony. Phil Spector accepted on her behalf. (Tina would settle in Switzerland in the '90s, and in 2013 became a Swiss citizen.)

In 1993, the film What's Love Got to Do with It, based in part on Tina's memoirs, was released, with Angela Bassett earning an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tina. While Tina recorded some songs for the soundtrack, she otherwise was not involved in its production, and while she would praise Bassett's performance, she told reporters she was disappointed with the film's inaccuracies. 1993 also saw Tina embark on a tour of North America, Europe, and Australia, and in 1995 she recorded the song "GoldenEye" for the James Bond film of the same name; Bono and the Edge from U2 wrote the song with her in mind. After signing a new record deal with Virgin, she released the album Wildest Dreams in 1996, which included the "GoldenEye" single as well guest appearances from Barry White, Antonio Banderas, and Sting. She followed the release with a tour that took her to North America, Europe, and Australia as she played 250 concerts. In 1999, Virgin bought out Twenty Four Seven, followed by yet another global concert trek that became the highest grossing tour of 2000, grossing more than $120 million. At the end of the tour, Tina declared that it was her last, and a pair of concerts at London's Wembley Stadium were filmed for a DVD release titled One Last Time in Concert.

All the Best, a two-disc career-spanning compilation, was released in 2004, and soon went platinum in the United States. In 2005, she received the Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an annual event honoring exceptional American performers, and the following year she recorded "Teach Me Again," a duet with Italian pop star Elisa, for the soundtrack of the film All the Invisible Children, an anthology feature intended to draw attention to the subject of exploitation of children. Tina appeared on Herbie Hancock's 2007 release River: The Joni Letters, a Grammy Award-winning collection of songs written by Joni Mitchell. In 2008, Tina appeared on the Grammy Awards telecast to perform a crowd-pleasing duet of "Proud Mary" with Beyonce. It heralded Tina's return to performing as she announced a tour commemorating her 50th year in music; she played 90 concerts between October 2008 and May 2009, after which she once again retired from the stage.

Tina, who had long been a follower of the Buddhist faith, recorded an album with Dechen Shak-Dagsay and Regula Curti in 2009 titled Beyond: Buddhist and Christian Prayers, which offered musical adaptation of spiritual supplications. It was the first of several albums the trio would record under the Beyond moniker. The Glasgow-based Rangers Football Club had adopted "The Best" as their unofficial theme song, and a 2010 campaign by their supporters took the song back to the U.K. Top Ten, which made Tina the first female artist to score Top 40 hits in six consecutive decades. (In 2020, she worked with Norwegian DJ Kygo on a remix of "What's Love Got to Do with It" that charted, stretching her record to seven decades.) 2018 saw the debut of Tina!, a jukebox musical based on her life and music, created with her participation. The show had a successful run on London's West End, and opened in New York City on Broadway in 2019. The same year Tina! premiered in London, Tina was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards, and she published a second memoir, My Love Story. A third book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, appeared in bookstores in 2020; it was written in collaboration with Regula Curti of Beyond and U.S. writer Taro Gold. In 2021, HBO premiered the documentary Tina, directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, which featured fresh interview footage with the singer. Several months later, Tina was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a second time, as a solo artist, and accepted it virtually via a satellite feed from her Swiss home. In her last years, Tina had struggled with kidney failure, strokes, and intestinal cancer; she died at her home on May 24, 2023, at the age of 83. ~ Mark Deming

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