By: Nicole Damron
June 13th, 2023
On May 24, 2023, the world lost an eternal voice. Tina Turner, The Queen of Rock & Roll, passed away peacefully in her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland at the age of 83. Her legacy, not just of music but of personal perseverance and strength, continues to be one of music’s most inspiring stories of redemption and survival.
Having experienced abuse not only as a child but in her marriage, her early life was far from comfortable. Channeling her pain into her talent and craft, she became one of the world’s most loved performers, and her contributions to the music industry and world as a whole will be forever remembered as “simply the best”.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, Anna Mae came from humble yet turbulent beginnings. Her mother was a factory worker, and her father a Baptist deacon, farm worker and factory worker. Both parents abandoned her at a young age and she spent her formative years being raised by her grandmother.
Although she began a working career as a nurse’s aide, Tina had always enjoyed performing for others, often memorizing lines from movies to recite back to her family and singing any chance she got. To her, music and dance had always come naturally. Her charisma and confidence gave her an innate ability to entertain, which came to fruition when she met blues musician Ike Turner in 1957.
By the age of 18, she was performing with Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm band. She quickly became the star of the soul music revue led by Turner, who would soon give her a new name: Tina. Soon the group gained popularity and traction as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Tina’s enigmatic stage presence and powerful vocal delivery allowed her to go toe-to-toe with many of the successful Rock and Roll acts of the late 50s and early 60s, many of which she would go on to perform revamped and soulful covers of their songs.
In addition to co-fronting the group with Ike, the two started dating in 1959 and eventually married in 1962. This was at the height of the group’s success, and between 1960 and 1975 Ike and Tina Turner had 20 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and 12 albums on both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B Albums charts.
The racing train that was the group’s success soon went off the rails, however. Ike Turner, a man addicted to cocaine and control, became a violent authoritarian. Not only did he control Tina’s contributions and image as part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, but subjected her to extreme mental and physical abuse.
After years of micromanagement and harrowing abuse, Tina fled the relationship in the middle of a July night in 1976, following a particularly violent outburst earlier that evening. With only 36 cents and a Mobil gas station card to her name, she embarked on music’s most inspiring journey of rebirth and revival, and went on to forge an extremely prolific career in her own right, in her own way.
After divorcing Ike two years later, the only direction to go was up. Breaking free of her abuser probably saved her life, but she struggled to separate herself as an artist from the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Retaining only her stage name, she continued to perform to make ends meet.
Having had little success with her first and second solo releases (both were released while she was still in a relationship with Ike), Tina needed a comeback. That comeback would later be known as her multi-platinum, groundbreaking album Private Dancer, released in 1984. Turner’s ability to breathe new life into classic Rock and Roll hits with her raw, unyielding vocal prowess made the album an instant success, and the biggest of her career.
The now infamous “What’s Love Got To Do With It” became her best-selling single, and made it clear to fans and audiences alike that Tina was back with a vengeance, and wasn’t planning to go quietly into the night. At 44, she had revived her career and solidified her status as one of Rock’s greatest.
Tina Turner built one the most celebrated and prolific careers in music history, and her music lives on in the hearts and minds of many. While she will forever be remembered for her mark on the music industry, what’s particularly remarkable about Ms. Turner is her unwavering dedication to herself. She refused to paint herself as a victim following her abusive marriage; instead choosing to spend the rest of her career sharing the truest version of herself with the world. That version was something the world had not yet seen.
As a middle-aged black woman, she could out-perform and sing circles around most of the male rock stars of the period—making it very clear that she belonged among them and deserved every accolade she earned. She broke down gender, race and sexual barriers with undeniable might and inspired generations of black and female musicians to believe in their power.
That is Tina Turner’s legacy. A decided belief in herself and powerful confidence allowed her to rise up from abuse and turn her pain into passion. She made it clear that she was more than her trauma, and allowed her talent to speak for itself at a volume nobody could ignore.
Nicole Damron is a senior majoring in Arts and Humanities and Professional and Public Writing with a minor in Spanish. She aspires to work as a culture and entertainment writer, potentially freelance. In her leisure time Nicole enjoys playing guitar and trumpet, true crime, listening to music, and sleeping in concerningly late.