There was nobody like her. An unstoppable force, one of the fiercest performers of our time, Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has passed away at 83-years-old.
It was that trademark alto voice that could detonate at any time on stage, her strong cheekbones and magnetic smile, and those legendary legs; more than 150 million records sold nationwide; 12 Grammys; honored at the Kennedy Center; etched in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her life became the basis for the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do with It, the HBO documentary Tina in 2021, and a Broadway musical that she called her public farewell.
Tina Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock, grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, where the population just inches over 10,000 people. Performing came naturally for Turner, as she explained in her 2019 autobiography Tina Turner: My Love Story. She describes music-filled shopping adventures — being 4 or 5 years old and being paid by salesgirls to sing radio songs she had memorized — and the excitement of leading her cousins, half-sister Evelyn, and sister Alline in pretend stage shows.
At the age of 16, Turner moved to St. Louis, Missouri, with her mother and sister Alline. She began going to Club Manhattan where she first met Ike Turner. As depicted in What’s Love Got to Do with It, one night she joined Ike and his group on stage for an impromptu performance of B.B. King’s You Know I Love You, and well, the rest is history.
There’s been no secret about the abuse, both personally and professionally, that Turner endured at the hands of Ike Turner. She was one of the first celebrities to speak publicly about domestic abuse. “Looking back, I realize that my relationship with Ike was doomed the day he figured out that I was going to be his meal ticket, his moneymaker,” Turner wrote in My Love Story. She described how she was a last-minute replacement to sing on A Fool in Love — which became their first hit in 1960 — and was impressive enough that a record label executive told Ike to make Tina the group’s focal point. “What went through Ike’s head when he heard that advice?” she said. “He had to find a way to protect his interests, and that’s when the trouble began.”
Turner was forthcoming about the years of emotional and physical abuse, as well as being financially ruined by her 20-year relationship with Ike Turner. She described bruised eyes, busted lips, a broken jaw, and other injuries that frequently sent her to the hospital. She lost everything, including her money. Yet, in her forties, at a time when most of her musical peers were winding down their careers, Turner reinvented her image, and her life.
In 1984, her solo album Private Dancer was released. At the time, MTV music videos were new and a staple for artists, if they wanted any kind of exposure. It was all about the visual. It was the video for What’s Love Got to Do with It that reintroduced us to Turner’s greatness. She called love a “second-hand emotion,” as she did that signature strut through New York City streets, with spiky blonde hair, a cropped jean jacket, mini skirt, and stiletto heels. Hello!
Other hits on that album — Better Be Good to Me, Let’s Stay Together, and Private Dancer — all reminded us that Turner was a force to be reckoned with. The album solidified that she could not be denied; could not be ignored; and was not under Ike’s thumb anymore.
In 1985, she co-starred in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which blessed us with another hit song, We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome). Her light just kept shining, even after her 50th anniversary tour. We can’t forget that Proud Mary performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards with Beyoncé, which has been circulating on social media since word of Turner’s passing. Looking back, it was as if Turner were passing the torch to the next generation. Queen Bey clearly understood the assignment.
What I love about Tina Turner is that second-act in her forties. It’s truly a masterclass for women, particularly Black creative women, as we often doubt ourselves once we’ve reached a certain age. We measure our level of success based on what we’ve been through. We give up dreams and goals because we think we’re too old. We wait for society to inform us when or if we can be relevant. We listen when told we should just have a seat and be quiet. Tina Turner showed us that our stories never stop being written; we can find the strength to reinvent, restart, and be triumphant in our own right.
As we celebrate Tina Turner’s incredible life, her legacy is not one of victimhood. She’s an example of how a little Black girl from Nutbush, Tennessee, came to own her truth in the midst of pain and trauma to become the woman she was meant to be. Her legacy is that of countless awards and accolades, for sure. But we will remember how we have been changed by her resilience, fortitude, and unmatched talent. We are grateful that we had the honor and opportunity to witness such a force in our lifetime. Tina Turner will always be simply the best.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.