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The incomparable Tina Turner, Queen of Rock & Roll, Dead at 83


The family statement said, “Tina Turner, the ‘Queen of Rock & Roll’ has died peacefully today at the age of 83 after a long illness in her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model.” Lovers of Tina Turner and her music were stunned by the news that the beloved musical legion had passed away. Although a cause of death has not been released, media reports say Turner had a stroke and battled both kidney failure and intestinal cancer in recent years.

Tina’s influence on soul, rock, and R&B partnered with her electrifying stage presence was immeasurable. She is credited with influencing many including Beyonce, Mick Jagger and Mary J. Blige, and her high-energy stage presence (topped with an array of gravity-defying wigs) was passed down to Janet Jackson and Beyoncé. Turner’s message — one that resounded with generations of women — was that she could hold her own onstage against any man. 

Known and loved around the world for her raspy voice and her unbelievable stage performances, Tina represented so many things to so many people. As a part of the Ike and Tina Turner band, Tina was the artist who overcame domestic abuse and humiliation that she endured for years at the hands of her drug-addled husband and bandmate Ike for years. Tina broke free from his abuse, fleeing him and the band with just her name. Following this departure from the only livelihood she had known, Tina faced ambivalence from the music industry for years as she tried to use that name to make it on her own in an industry that should have known about the abuse.

After fleeing Ike and going solo, Tina did not immediately find comfort from those she sought out in the industry. Not to be deterred and continuing to believe in herself, Tina put in the time and work and emerged as one of the most rousing and inspirational performers in soul and rock. Her Grammy-winning 1984 makeover album, Private Dancer, made her a symbol of survival and renewal as it launched her rebirth in the industry.

Released on May 29, 1984, Private Dancer represented Tina’s fifth solo studio album and the first album through the Capitol Records label. With this album, she was finally viewed as a viable solo and one of the most marketable in the recording industry. Tina became a worldwide success and earned multiple platinum certifications.

Tina credited her introduction to Buddhism for giving her the strength to leave Ike saying to Rolling Stone in 1986, “I never stopped praying … that was my tool. Psychologically, I was protecting myself, which is why I didn’t do drugs and didn’t drink. I had to stay in control. So I just kept searching, spiritually, for the answer.”

Born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, Turner grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, a rural area in Haywood County. She chronicled her town in her song “Nutbush City Limits.” As children, Tina and her older sister Ruby Aillene dealt with abandonment issues when their sharecropper parents left to work elsewhere.

Turner spoke of her parents in a 1986 Rolling Stone interview. “My mother and father didn’t love each other, so they  were always fighting.” Her mother first left when Tina was 10 to live in St. Louis; her father left three years later. Tina relocated to Brownsville, Tennessee, to live with her grandmother. 

After high school, Tina began working as a nurse’s aide in hopes of entering that profession, but frequent jaunts to nightclubs in St. Louis and East St. Louis with her sister altered that trajectory when she saw Ike Turner perform as the bandleader of Kings of Rhythm. One night, the drummer passed 18-year-old Tina the microphone while she was in the audience. Her vocals impressed Ike who later invited Tina to be the group’s guest vocalist and instructed her on voice control and performance.

In 1958, Turner gave birth to her first child, Raymond Craig, with Raymond Hill, the Kings of Rhythm’s saxophonist. Soon after, Tina moved in with Ike to help raise Ike’s two sons after he had broken up with their mother. A sexual relationship ensued. She would later change her stage name per Ike’s request to Tina. The two married in Tijuana; it was Ike’s sixth marriage. She and Ike were married from 1962 to 1978. They welcomed their son, Ronnie, in 1960. (Tina previously welcomed son Craig with Kings of Rhythm saxophonist Raymond Hill in 1958 and adopted two of Ike’s children following their nuptials.)

As they saw musical highs with their band, including releasing music that reached the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, touring across the country, and Grammy nominations, the Turners’ marriage began to unravel as Ike grew more abusive to Tina and more addicted to cocaine. In 1969, the band opened for the Rolling Stones on the band’s U.S. tour, then went on to have a crossover hit with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”, which won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. 

Tina had attempted to leave Ike multiple times in the past. After what she described as “one last bit of real violence,” Tina fled to a Ramada Inn in Dallas where the band was playing. Friend and actress Ann-Margret provided her airfare to Los Angeles and Tina stayed with her as Ike searched for her. Ike and Tina divorced in 1976. Unsure about what tomorrow would bring, Tina turned to what she knew best, her singing, but she struggled.

Tina’s comeback began in 1982, when the British synth-pop band, Heaven 17, recruited her for a remake of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion.” This song led to a new record deal for Tina with Capitol Records. Tina and Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware did a remake of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which hit the Top 30 in the U.S. With that, and the support of her friend David Bowie, Turner began recording her Capitol debut, Private Dancer.

Tina recorded “What’s Love Got to Do With It” The song spent three weeks at No. 1 and rebooted Turner’s career. A new and younger MTV audience embraced Private Dancer and Tina and propelled her to receive three Grammys (including Record of the Year and Female Pop Vocal Performance).

Tina’s relaunch into pop culture included a starring role as the villainous Auntie Entity alongside Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — which included another hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)”. She was also one of the all-star singers on “We Are the World”. In 1986, her first memoir, I, Tina, was published and became a bestseller. Her memoir gave hope to survivors of domestic abuse and helped ensure that domestic violence was addressed in the culture at large. “One of the Living,” another song she cut for the Mad Max movie, won a Best Female Rock Performance Grammy in 1985.

Tina told RS in 1986, “I don’t want to depend on a man to give me money. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I used to think I had to get married to help me get the things I wanted in life. When I realized I could get those things for myself, by myself, I began to like that feeling. I feel if I can secure myself, I wouldn’t have to depend on a man; we would only share love.”

In 1989, Tina recorded a rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “The Best, which led to another multi-platinum album, Foreign Affair. I, Tina was turned into a 1993 movie, What’s Love Got to Do with It, starring Angela Bassett in the title role and Laurence Fishburne as Ike. “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” a new song included on that film’s soundtrack, became Turner’s last Top 10 hit.

Bassett, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Turner, said in a statement following the singer’s death, “How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world? Through her courage in telling her story, her commitment to stay the course in her life, no matter the sacrifice, and her determination to carve out a space in rock and roll for herself and for others who look like her, Tina Turner showed others who lived in fear what a beautiful future filled with love, compassion, and freedom should look like.”

Turner went on to win additional Grammys, for “Better Be Good to Me,” the live album Tina Live in Europe, and for her participation in Herbie Hancock’s 2007 Joni Mitchell tribute album, River: The Joni Letters, on which Turner sang Mitchell’s “Edith and the Kingpin.” 

Turner, along with Tony Bennett, Robert Redford, and others, was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor by then-president George W. Bush, with Beyoncé celebrating Turner with a rendition of “Proud Mary.

Between 2008 and 2009, Tina embarked on a 50th-anniversary tour. Tina, a musical based on her life, premiered in London in 2018 and on Broadway the following year. Adrienne Warren, in the title role, won a Tony in 2020 for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

Ike Turner died in 2007. Prior to his death, Tina commented on her tempestuous relationship with Ike in her memoir saying, “He did get me started and he was good to me at the beginning. So I have some good thoughts. Maybe it was a good thing that I met him. That, I don’t know.” 

In 1986, Turner met German music executive Erwin Bach and the two became a couple. They married in 2013 and first lived in Germany before moving to Switzerland. In recent years, Turner suffered a stroke and then developed intestinal cancer. In light of possible kidney failure, Bach donated a kidney to his wife in 2017. 

Tina’s longtime manager Roger Davies said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “Tina was a unique and remarkable force of nature with her strength, incredible energy and immense talent.”

The entertainment world and fans who adored Tina around the world have paid tribute to the passing of this iconic singer who will always be Simply the Best.

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