Beloved rock and roll icon Tina Turner died in her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland at the age of 83 after a long illness. She was beloved by LGBTQ+ music fans for overcoming a misogynist music industry and her abusive husband to achieve a rock career that included hit songs, iconic styles, national accolades, and performances in TV and film.
She also had the distinction of performing at the opening ceremonies of the first ever Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. She also spoke out for people living with HIV at a time when it was still considered quite risky for an artists’s career.
Born to a sharecropper family in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1939 under the name Anna Mae Bullock, she sang in a church choir and lived with her religious paternal grandparents throughout her childhood. Her mom unexpectedly left the family to flee her abusive relationship with her husband.
In high school, Turner said she was a bit of a “tomboy.” As a teen, she worked as a housecleaner and also played on her school’s basketball team and cheerleading squad.
Turner fell in love with her abusive husband, Ike, Turner after seeing him perform with his band the Kings of Rhythm at the Manhattan Club in East St. Louis in 1957. She became a featured vocalist with his band and stood out for her “raspy” and “screaming” sound which made her stand out from other rhythm and blues (R&B) female singers of the time.
In 1961, Ike created the nationally touring Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which featured backup dancers and became known as “one of the most hottest, most durable, and potentially most explosive of all R&B ensembles.” The revue was so revered that it was even allowed to perform in Southern clubs which were still racially segregated at the time. It later performed in Las Vegas residency which was reportedly attended by such iconic rock performers as David Bowie, Sly Stone, Janis Joplin, Cher, James Brown, Ray Charles, Elton John, and Elvis Presley, according to the 2003 book All Music Guide to the Blues.
In November 1967, she became the first female artist and the first Black artist ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. She and Ike Turner also toured with The Rolling Stones in 1969.
Although the two had produced many hit singles, their breakthrough hit was arguably their 1971 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song “Proud Mary,” a song for which Turner has become iconic. Numerous drag queens have recreated the song, mimicking Tina Turner’s dance moves, shiny dress, and iconic spikes hairdo. The song won Tina and Ike Turner a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
Ike Turner was abusive, Tina Turner said in her memoir I Tina that he would throw hot coffee in her face, choke her, or beat her until her eyes were swollen shut, then rape her, the Idaho State Journal reported, adding that before one show, he broke her jaw and she went on stage with her mouth full of blood. He said in his autobiography Takin’ Back My Name, “Sure, I’ve slapped Tina. We had fights and there have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her.”
Tina Turner’s divorce from him was finalized on March 29, 1978. She embarked on her solo career after their separation and performed on TV in concert appearances in order to make money to pay debts associated with her canceled concert performances after her divorce. Around this time, she appeared on Hollywood Squares, Donny & Marie, The Sonny & Cher Show, and The Brady Bunch Hour.
Over time, she was regarded as a nostalgic act for regularly performing the old songs that helped define her early career. However, her 1984 album Private Dancer helped shake off this perception, as it became a quintuple-platinum album in the United States, selling over 10 million copies worldwide as her most successful album. It also contained her iconic heartbreak hit, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
In 1985, she appeared in the campy, post-apocalyptic film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, playing the supporting role of Aunty Entity, the ruthless ruler of Bartertown. She also appeared as the drug- and sex-fueled Acid Queen in the 1975 film adaptation of The Who’s rock musical Tommy. Her 1985 song “Simply the Best” enjoyed a resurgence in popularity when it was sung in the heartwarming queer romantic comedy series Schitt’s Creek.
In 1991, she and Ike were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, she was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. for her musical achievements.
In 2013, she became a citizen of Switzerland and renounced her U.S. citizenship. She revealed in her 2018 memoir My Love Story that she had suffered multiple life-threatening illnesses, including high blood pressure, intestinal cancer, kidney failure, and a stroke that caused her to re-learn how to walk. Her oldest son, Craig, died from suicide in 2018. Her younger son Ronnie died in December 2022 at age 62 of colon cancer.
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