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Tina Turner - 1939-2023

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 3 / 7 / 2023

Tina Turner - 1939-2023

Tina Turner, who died on 24 May aged 83, was the undisputed queen of stadium rock. Her trademarks were her rasping, husky and hugely powerful voice, her raunchy, energetic dance moves and her body-hugging, thigh-skimming stage outfits, plus her unrivalled ability to connect immediately with any audience, whether a few hundred or tens of thousands, in any country of the world. One of the best-selling female singers of all time with record sales of well over 100 million, Tina not only overcame a very humble beginning in the cotton fields of America’s Deep South but also survived a brutal marriage to Ike Turner. Monstrous, if talented Turner not only changed Tina’s name but also humiliated, beat and controlled her throughout her early success. It took Tina much courage and many years to break free of her husband’s coercive and manipulative grip. But once she had freed herself, she eventually went on to enjoy even bigger musical success, elevating herself into the pantheon of rock n’ roll’s greatest icons. No surprise then, that Tina’s death in her adopted home of Switzerland triggered so many tributes not just from rock music’s biggest names but from the White House to London’s West End where ‘Tina: The Musical’ has been playing to sell-out audiences for five successful years. All this was in stark contrast to the singer’s poverty-stricken beginnings. Born in 1939 into a desolate community of Tennessee share croppers, Tina was raised in a broken and violent home by her father Floyd and mother Zelma who spent much of their time fighting each other. Christened Anna Mae Bullock, Tina was the unwanted second child and she shared her unhappy childhood with her elder sister Alline. In 1943 her parents left both daughters to be raised by their strict, religious grandparents in the town of Nutbush – later to be celebrated in Tina's 1973 hit ‘Nutbush City Limits’. By the time Tina was 11 years old in 1950 the family had briefly reunited, only for her mother Zelma – desperate to escape her husband – to walk out on them. Her father Floyd subsequently deserted Tina and her sister as well, and the two girls were passed between various relatives who oversaw the girls picking cotton in the fields around Nutbush to help pay for their keep. Eventually, Tina and her sister rejoined their mother who was now living in St. Louis, Missouri. It was there one night in 1956 that the two girls visited a club where a band called Ike Turner And The Kings Of Rhythm were playing. Tina was entranced by the music and started attending the club regularly as a skinny 17 year-old schoolgirl. Ike never noticed her at all until one night, at her elder sister’s urging, she grabbed a microphone and joined Ike in a song. The impact was immediate. Her voice, honed by many years of singing in Baptist choirs back in Tennessee, was so powerful that everyone in the club was astonished. Within days, Ike had invited Tina to join his band and she abandoned her early ambition of becoming a nurse to sing professionally full time. Ike mentored her, seeing her as his route to the major commercial success he and his band craved, giving her a new name and a racy image plus insisted her singing style should be as raw and sexy as possible. A recording contract soon followed and their first release, ‘A Fool In Love’ was a huge success. American and international tours, more hit records and TV appearances followed. The couple married in 1962, but Ike became increasingly controlling and violent as he started taking drugs heavily. The domestic scene became ever more savage for Tina who at one point attempted suicide. Subsequently, she turned to Buddhism and meditation and finally, after 14 years of marital misery with Ike, Tina dared to divorce him. Several tough years followed. Tina’s popularity in the USA had now waned and she was regarded as a has-been nostalgia act but she still had a big, loyal fan base in the UK. Now in her mid-forties, Tina started to work with some key figures in the UK recording industry including producers Martyn Ware (formerly of Heaven 17), Terry Britten, John Carter and Rupert Hine. In 1984 Turner’s new solo album ‘Private Dancer’ was released with the title track written by Mark Knopfler and featuring a guitar solo by Jeff Beck. ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ was released as a single from the set and went on to top the US charts, later winning a Grammy for Record of The Year for 1984. The LP became a huge worldwide success and relaunched Turner’s career. Over the next three decades Tina Turner would work with the biggest names in music, from David Bowie to Mick Jagger to Eric Clapton to Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, Lionel Richie and Beyonce. Tina co-starred with Mel Gibson in the 1985 post-apocalyptic film ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ winning critical acclaim and several international awards for her role. Many music awards followed over the years culminating in a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. Amidst all the success said that the best thing in her life was finding her long-term partner and second husband, Erwin Bach. A German record executive 16 years her junior with Tina’s label EMI, the pair met in 1986. In 2013 after a 27 year-long “blissfully happy” romantic relationship, they married in a Buddhist ceremony on the shores of Lake Zurich, Switzerland. That same year Tina renounced her US citizenship and became a Swiss national. For several decades now, Tina Turner has been a role model for generations of women. She successfully overcame huge adversity and all the massive challenges life threw at her, somehow smiling her way through and always finding time to entertain and support others. “It’s not what happens in life but how you deal with it that counts” she often said. Which is a very fitting epitaph for her.

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Tina Turner - 1939-2023

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A true legend, Tina Turner who has died at the age of 83 emerged in the 1960s rhythm and blues era and following her mid-1980s re-emergence was hailed the Queen of Rock N’ Roll. Nick Dent-Robinson pays tribute.



Queen of Rock 'n' Roll (2023)
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