For many rock and roll fans, Tina Turner is the voice. Her ability to blend pop, rock, funk, and soul into an invigorating and unique sound has turned her into a legend. Though her experience with success had its pitfalls, Turner’s triumphs will always prevail.
Life Before Tina Turner
Before she became the queen of rock and roll, she was Anna Mae Bullock. She, her siblings, and her parents lived in Nutbush, Tennessee. Her father, Floyd Richard Bullock, was an overseer of the sharecroppers at the Poindexter Farm. There, she recalls picking cotton as a young girl.
During World War II, while her parents worked at a defense facility in Knoxville, Tennessee, Anna Mae lived with her religious grandparents. They were the deacon and the deaconess at Woodlawn Missionary baptist church. Little did they know, the influence of the church would change Anna Mae’s life.
The Importance of Faith
While she didn’t remain fully Baptist throughout her career, she began singing in her church choir. Singing allowed Anna Mae to explore the intensity of self-expression. She learned early on that singing is an extension of speech, serving the emotions that words alone could never quite convey.
When Anna Mae was 11, her mother fled her father’s abuse. In her autobiography, I, Tina, she explains that both of her parents were young, and that they didn’t want another child when she came along. After her mother left, she lived with her maternal grandmother, while her father remarried and had another child. In high school, she lost her half-sibling and step-mother in a car crash. Anna Mae’s familiarity with tragedy would carry on in her career, but even more importantly, her resilience would, too.
Enter: Ike Turner
Anna Mae was no stranger to the St. Louis club scene. There, as if destined, she saw Ike Turner perform with his band, Kings of Rhythm, at the Manhattan Club. She swore his performance entranced her. Feeling inspired, she asked Ike if she could sing with his band. He said he’d call her, but never did. Still, Anna Mae was no quitter. She took the microphone from the Kings of Rhythm’s drummer, Eugene Washington, between the band’s sets. She belted out B.B. King’s “You Know I Love You,” and Ike Turner was so impressed that he had her sing with the band for the rest of their set. She recorded her first ever single, “Boxtop,” as Little Ann, and is credited as the vocalist alongside Ike and Kings of Rhythm vocalist, Carlson Oliver.
Becoming Tina Turner
In 1960, Ike Turner penned “A Fool in Love” for the singer, Art Lassiter. Lassiter, however, failed to show up to the recording session. Since the studio time was already booked, Ike suggested that Anna Mae should sing the lead. He originally intended this to be a quick-fix. He assumed he would replace Anna Mae’s vocals with Lassiter once he had the chance to record them.
Not if destiny has any say in it. Dave Dixon, a St. Louis DJ, convinced Ike to submit the demo with Anna Mae’s vocals on it to the president of Sue Records, Juggy Murray. He told Ike Turner that Anna Mae was a star. He chose her stage name, Tina Turner. Tina, because he was inspired by Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and Turner as a form of protection. If she chose to leave him, he thought he could replace her with another Tina Turner. Of course, as fate would have it, there could only ever be one Tina Turner.
In 1960, Ike introduced Tina Turner to the public with “A Fool In Love,” which peaked at number two on the R&B Hot Sides chart, and at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. Journalist Kurt Loder remarked that it was “the blackest record to ever reach the white pop charts” since Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” Their next single, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” reached number 14 on the charts and received a Grammy nomination in 1961.
Later, Ike Turner formed the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, retaining Kings of Rhythm and adding The Ikettes to the background. This musical spectacle became highly regarded, but not without hard work. Ike Turner put the ensemble through rigorous rehearsals and performance schedules, but this solidified their act as one of the most durable and exciting of the time. In fact, their act was so profitable that they were allowed to play in clubs in the desegregated areas of the south.
Credited as a solo artist, Tina Turner released her first single “Too Many Ties That Bind” and “We Need An Understanding” in 1964. As a duo, Ike and Tina Turner released “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had,” which reached number 29 on the Billboard R&B Chart.
In 1964, they signed with Loma Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Records. Bob Kransow, who ran Loma Records, became their manager. There, they released their first charting album Live!: The Ike and Tina Turner Show, which hit number eight on the Billboard Hot R&B LPs. The subsequent singles, “Tell Her I’m Not Home,” from Loma Records, and “Good Bye, So Long” from Modern Records were top 40 R&B hits in 1965.
On The Rise
Tina Turner’s profile kept rising through her solo performances on shows like American Bandstand and Shindig!, while the revue group appeared on Hollywood A Go-Go. Fate knocked on their door once again when producer Phil Spector attended one of Ike and Tina’s shows on Sunset Strip and invited them to appear in the concert film, The Big T.N.T. Show.
The Big T.N.T. Show led to Spector’s investment in Tina Turner’s career. He gave Bob Krasnow $20,000 to release them from their contract with Loma Records, and to have creative control over their recording sessions. They eventually signed to Spector’s label, Philles, in 1966. They released their first single, “River Deep – Mountain High” in May of the same year. Spector considers this piece to be his best work. It cracked the top 10 singles on the international charts, but only reached number 88 on the Billboard Top 100.
However, charts don’t always reflect history. “River Deep – Mountain High” is a staple in rock music to this day. Furthermore, the impact of the record launched Ike and Tina Turner into stardom. This opened up the door for them to be the opening act on The Rolling Stones’ U.K. tour in the Fall of 1966, and in 1967, Tina Turner became the first Black artist and the first woman to be on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Among Other Legends
Soon after, in 1968, the duo signed with Blue Thumb Records, under which they released Outta Season, in 1969. This album included their next charting single, a cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” The same year, they released The Hunter. The title track, a cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter” earned Tina Turner a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Their albums’ successes led to a headlining stint in Las Vegas, where fellow rock royalty came to support them, such as Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Cher, Ray Charles, and Elvis Presley, to name a few.
Keep On Turnin’
In the Fall of 1969, Ike and Tina Turner found themselves rising in their stardom in the United States. After opening for the Rolling Stones’ U.S. tour, they gained more exposure from their performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Playboy After Dark, and The Andy Williams Show.
In 1970, the duo released two albums that marked their departure from traditional R&B: Come Together and Workin’ Together. Their repertoire now included The Beatles’ “Come Together” and “Get Back,” as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.”
Kicking off 1971 with a bang, the duo released their biggest hit, a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” This launched the duo into major stardom at the time, and continues to uphold the legacy of their exuberance and musical prowess. It reached number 4 on the the Billboard Hot 100, and earned a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or a Group. This led to a Gold-certified live album, What You See Is What You Get, recorded at Carnegie Hall, and released in July 1971.
In 1972, Ike and Tina Turner opened Bolic Sound in Inglewood, near their home. After they signed with United Artists Records, Tina Turner found herself writing more and more songs. In fact, she wrote nine out of the ten tracks on their 1972 effort, Feel Good. The Tina-penned single, “Nutbush City Limits” reached the top of the charts internationally, and earned the first Europe Record Award for selling over one million copies.
Things continued picking up steam in 1974. The Gospel According to Ike & Tina earned a Grammy nomination for Best Soul Gospel Performance. It also earned Ike a solo nomination for his single “Father Alone.”
Tina’s solo efforts also led to a Grammy nomination. Tina Turns The Country On! earned the Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female nomination. Even more exciting, Tina filmed The Who’s Tommy, as the Acid Queen. She earned her place and solidified her legacy as rock royalty with her critically-acclaimed performance in the role. It is one of the most iconic performances to date. Later, in 1975, Tina Turner released her solo effort, Acid Queen, which featured covers of “Baby, Get It On,” and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
While the glamor of rock and roll can be exciting, it unfortunately has many pitfalls. Ike Turner developed a cocaine addiction, which ultimately led to the dissolution of their group, and after a physical altercation, a divorce.
Tough Times, Tougher Woman
After Ike Turner’s departure, Tina Turner toured solo to pay off the debts they owed to the record company. Sadly, the group faced lawsuits because they could not fulfill their end of the contract. Turner played in smaller venues and did a series of shows at Caesars in Las Vegas in order to work off the penalties. She also toured for the first time in Australia.
In 1978, Turner released her third solo album, Rough, followed by another album, Love Explosion, both of which failed to chart. This led to United Artists Records releasing her from her contract. Still, she continued performing and headlined another tour.
While her solo efforts originally produced underwhelming numbers, her stage presence, vocal prowess, and professionalism earned her a spot as the opening act on yet another Rolling Stones tour in 1981. She also appeared on Saturday Night Live to sing with Rod Stewart, and her cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” became a hit in the U.K. dance scene.
Becoming A Superstar
In 1983, Turner achieved a surprise success with her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” After the single rose on the charts in the U.S. and abroad, Capitol Records greenlit a new album, Private Dancer. Private Dancer went 5x platinum in the United States, cracked the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, and charted worldwide. It sold over 10 million copies total, and is Turner’s most successful album to date.
The second single off the album, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was a massive success. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” came in at number 1 on the Billboard charts, preceding two other top-ten singles, “Better Be Good to Me” and “Private Dancer.” At the 27th Grammy Awards, she won three Grammys, including Record of The Year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Turner subsequently embarked on another world tour and contributed to the start-studded single “We Are The World.” Later, in 1985, Turner joined Mick Jagger on stage at Live Aid, with a history-making, controversial performance that culminated in Jagger ripping her skirt off. That same year, Turner starred in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. In addition to her NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress, she contributed two hit songs to the film, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” and “One of The Living.” The latter won the Grammy Award for the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
1986 saw the birth of Turner’s sixth solo album, Break Every Rule. It sold 5 million copies in its first year. It featured the Grammy Award winning single “Back Where You Started.” She also released her autobiography I, Tina and embarked on a record breaking world tour, the Break Every Rule World Tour. Turner set a world record for the largest paying concert attendance for a solo concert performance at a sold out show of 180,000 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Tina Live In Europe won her an additional Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance.
In 1989, Turner released Foreign Affair and followed it up with the record-setting Foreign Affair European Tour. This drew in nearly 4 million fans, breaking the attendance record that the Rolling Stones previously set.
In 1991, she and Ike Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Four years later, she recorded “GoldenEye”, a song penned by Bono and The Edge of U2 for the James Bond movie, GoldenEye.
Turner released her final solo album Twenty Four Seven in 1999, with the lead single “When The Heartache is Over.” The single and supporting tour helped the album certify Gold in 2000. At her final Twenty Four Seven Tour show, Turner announced her retirement.
The Legacy of a Legend
While Tina Turner largely scaled her career back, her impact is undeniable. She opened up many doors for new artists across all kinds of mediums. Turner’s life story found itself on Broadway. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical received 12 Tony nominations, leading to a Tony win for Adrienne Warren for her portrayal of Tina Turner.
Additionally, Turner received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 2018. In total, Turner earned 8 competitive Grammy Awards and 12 Grammys total.
Tina Turner exemplifies the importance of resilience. Her career withstands the test of time, not just because of her supreme talent, but because of her work ethic and infectious energy. She is the embodiment of rock and roll.