When her bus reached its St. Louis destination from Nutbush, Tennessee in 1956, Anna Mae Bullock arrived as a shy teenager. During her time in the region, she would be primed to become one of the biggest names in music.
The icon who destroyed barriers with respect to age, race, and gender on her ascent to global superstardom passed away at her home near Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday, May 24 after a lengthy illness. She was 83.
“With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow,” a statement read from Turner’s official Instagram account. “Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music.”
Bernie Hayes, an adjunct professor of music at Webster University and the emeritus executive director of the National Blues Museum in downtown St. Louis, called Turner “more than an icon.”
“She was a genre. Tina Turner was one of a kind. There will never be another.”
Hayes, who was a friend of Turner’s, said that while she was “a bombshell” on stage, she was introverted.
“While she loved the fame, she loved the travel, she actually loved quietness and loved to be by herself,” he said.
Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement, “Long before there was Beyoncé, there was Tina.”
“From Sumner High School to Club Imperial to sold-out concerts across the globe, Tina Turner’s undeniable voice and talent brought people together. Tina was musical royalty, a trailblazer, and a force to be reckoned with – no matter the odds or obstacles in her way. She cemented St. Louis’ place in rock and roll history, and we cherish her legacy.”
Turner’s music career began when she was passed the microphone during an intermission between sets of Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm were performing. Turner heard the raspy vocals that growled into the speakers that captivated him and the rest of the club that night – a voice that seemed much too big and strong to be coming out from such a tiny frame. Ike Turner didn’t know at the time, but Anna Mae Bullock was a student at Sumner when he asked her to become his new lead singer.
In the HBO documentary Tina, she flashed her signature smile while reminiscing about playing the St. Louis and East St. Louis club circuit on weekends as the sultry lead singer for Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. Monday mornings she would go back to her unassuming role as a shy student at Sumner High School.
For her senior yearbook photo as part of the class of 1958, the caption read, “Ann Bullock, Entertainer.”
She became that and so much more. She shifted the culture of popular music and entertainment. She dismissed the notions that stardom had a set age and that sex symbols have an expiration date. The entire entertainment industry owes a debt to the tiny girl from Nutbush, Tennessee who found her voice in St. Louis.
A star is born
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee. She was the youngest of three daughters born to Floyd Richard Bullock and Zelma Priscilla Bullock. Her father was an overseer of sharecroppers and Turner discussed her experience of picking cotton as a young child. She and her sisters were separated from her parents when they relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee to work at a defense facility during World War II. Anna Mae Bullock was left in the care of her paternal grandparents until the family reunited in Nutbush -where Bullock sang in the Spring Hill Baptist Church choir.
Zelma Bullock relocated to St. Louis in 1950, leaving Anna Mae and her sisters behind. She joined her mother in St. Louis six years when her grandmother passed away – and stepped into her destiny.
“I grew up two houses down from where Ike met Tina,” acclaimed director and East St. Louis native Reginald Hudlin told The American in 2019.
When she first saw Ike Turner perform with the Kings of Rhythm at The Manhattan Club, Bullock was blown away.
“I was almost in a trance,” she recalled in her autobiography I, Tina – which was written with famed music journalist Kurt Loder.
She asked if she could sing with his band. He said he would call her. According to Ike Turner’s autobiography Takin’ Back My Name: Confessions of Ike Turner, He said he would call her, but he never did.
Fate intervened. She was able to get a hold of the microphone during an intermission and – in a moment made famous by the blockbuster biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It she belted out the popular B.B. King blues ballad “You Know I Love You.”
After hearing her voice, it was Ike Turner who did the calling. She became a featured vocalist with his band – where he helped her hone her stage presence and cultivate her “it” factor into star power.
By 1960, Bullock’s high school prophecy had happened. Tina Turner had the R&B hit “Fool In Love” on her hands. Ike Turner renamed her. She then made a name for herself as Ike Turner’s frontwoman –a singing and dancing machine with unparalleled energy and stage presence. She and Ike eventually married and together they had three children. Tina had a child from a previous relationship. They were a staple of the music scene of the 1960s and 1970s – with their biggest hit, a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival tune “Proud Mary” that became nearly as successful as the original when it peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts in 1971.
Tina’s triumphant next chapter
She ended the tumultuous personal and professional relationship with Ike Turner and into music history with an epic and unprecedented ascension from battered wife, to lounge singer to superstar.
After more than a decade in the wilderness of the capricious music industry that worships youth, she flipped the script on agism in popular music. When “What’s Love Got to Do with It” reached the top of the Billboard “Hot 100,” Tina Turner became the oldest female solo artist to top the chart. She was 44.
She became the first Black artist and woman to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. She was twice inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice (as a solo artist and as part of Ike & Tina Turner.
Among her many accolades includes being included in the 2005 cohort of Kennedy Center Honors.
She earned eight Grammy Awards and her tours shattered box office records. Her Break Every Rule World Tour of 1988 set a then-Guinness World Record for the largest paying audience for a solo performer when she took what she learned in St. Louis and East St. Louis and shared it with 180,000 fans.
Turner became a best-selling author with the release of I, Tina: My Life Story. The book inspired the blockbuster film What’s Love Got To Do With It, which earned Academy Award nominations for Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.
She stepped away from music in 2009 after she completed her Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour – which was the 15th highest-grossing tour of the 2000s.
Tina Turner is survived by her husband Erwin Bach and sons Ike Turner, Jr., and Michael Turner. Her sons Craig Turner and Ronnie Turner preceded her in death.
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