“Look what I have done in this lifetime, with this body,” said Tina Turner, in a documentary released about her life in 2021. “I’m a girl from a cotton field, that pulled myself above what was not taught to me.”
Tina Turner‘s life was a story of trauma and triumph – she was the star known for her energetic stage performances and her incomparable soulful, husky voice, who overcame several personal and professional struggles to become the Queen of Rock ‘n Roll.
Following her death at the age of 83, tributes have been paid to a “legend”, an “icon” and a “remarkable force of nature,” from fellow music stars to the White House, with clips of her biggest hits – including Proud Mary, Nutbush City Limits, The Best, We Don’t Need Another Hero, and What’s Love Got To Do With It – flooding social media.
Throughout her career, Turner won a total of 12 Grammys and was a two-time inductee into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, as a solo artist and as part of the duo she formed with ex-husband, Ike Turner, in the 1960s.
She was the first woman to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone and a record breaker – previously holding the Guinness World Record for the largest paying audience for a solo performer, attracting an audience of 180,000 for her show at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1988.
And she also inspired an award-winning musical based on her incredible life – the story of the star who achieved stratospheric success, including sales of more than 100 million records worldwide, after overcoming years of abuse from both her father and ex-husband, and pushback from those who told her she could not make it as a solo star.
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, on 26 November 1939, to parents Zelma Priscilla and Floyd Richard Bullock. At the age of 11, she moved to live with her grandmother after her mother left her abusive relationship with her father.
Aged 16, she joined her mother and sister Alline in the city of St Louis in Missouri, which is where she encountered her future husband for the first time.
She soon joined his band The Kings Of Rhythm as its first female member – and when she reimagined herself as Tina Turner in 1960, the group reformed to become the Ike And Tina Turner Revue.
That same year, Turner gave birth to their first child Ronnie and the couple wed in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1962. Ronnie was her second child; her first, Craig Raymond Turner, was with the saxophonist for the Kings Of Rhythm, Raymond Hill.
The group produced a string of RnB hits, including A Fool In Love and It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, but it was the release of River Deep – Mountain High in 1966 that saw their popularity soar around the world. The release was followed by a UK tour with The Rolling Stones as the band’s support act.
Songs such as Come Together, Honky Tonk Woman and Proud Mary helped cement their status, with the latter winning them a Grammy in 1972.
But behind the scenes, Turner was enduring abuse at the hands of her husband.
She stayed with him until 1976, but later revealed she had attempted suicide during their relationship. “I simply couldn’t take any more,” she wrote in her 2018 memoir, of the moment she hit rock bottom.
During their divorce, she reportedly asked for nothing more than the right to keep the use of her stage name, and she went on to reinvent herself as a solo star.
It wasn’t easy, with a slow start for debut album Tina Turns The Country On! in 1974, followed by Acid Queen in 1975, but Turner pushed back against those who told her that, as a black woman approaching 40, she would never make the transition to rock.
Simply The Best: Tina Turner in pictures
Tina Turners most streamed songs
- 1. The Best
- 2. What’s Love Got To Do With It?
- 3. Proud Mary
- 4. What’s Love Got To Do With It? (with Kygo)
- 5. River Deep Mountain High (with Ike Turner)
- 6. We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)
- 7. Nutbush City Limits (with Ike Turner)
- 8. Private Dancer
- 9. It’s Only Love (with Bryan Adams)
- 10. Proud Mary (with Ike Turner)
Throughout the 1980s, she rebuilt her career, with a string of hits starting in 1983 with a cover of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, and the 1984 release of her album Private Dancer. Her most recognisable song, a cover of The Best, was released in 1989. By then, her image of big hair and mini-skirts had become iconic, her famous legs becoming almost as famous as her distinctive voice.
In 1986, Turner was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Her first induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, for her work with Ike, came in 1991, though neither attended the ceremony. Her induction as a solo artist came some 30 years later, in 2021.
“If they’re still giving me awards at 81, I must have done something right,” she said in a recorded acceptance speech.
She was inducted by Angela Bassett, the actress who portrayed Turner in the 1993 film What’s Love Got To Do With It. Both Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, who played Ike, were nominated for Oscars for their performances.
“Imagine, a black girl from Nutbush, Tennessee, who embodied more talent than her small town could have ever dreamed,” Bassett said at the Hall Of Fame ceremony. “Imagine that same girl breaking through every barrier to one day make history.
“People still tell me how much Tina has meant to them. I know exactly what they mean, because she has meant that much and more to me. I too am one of those people blessed by Tina’s remarkable gift to inspire.”
In the 1990s, Turner joined the list of Bond musicians, voicing the title song for Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye.
After a brief break from showbusiness, she returned to the limelight in 2008 at the Grammy Awards, where she performed Proud Mary alongside Beyonce. Other notable duets through her career included performing with David Bowie, and with The Rolling Stones during Live Aid in 1985.
In 2008, she embarked on her 50th-anniversary tour, and in 2016 she announced Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.
In 2021, she sold the rights to her back catalogue after reaching an agreement with BMG for an undisclosed sum, and the last of her 34 UK Top 40 hits was released in 2020, when she re-recorded What’s Love Got To Do With It with Norwegian DJ Kygo.
Turner’s solo works include 10 studio albums, two live albums, two soundtracks and five compilations, which together have sold more than 100 million records. As well as her music, Turner also starred in films including Tommy in 1975, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, and Last Action Hero in 1993.
In her personal life, she met music producer Erwin Bach in the 1980s and the pair married years later on the banks of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, where they lived. In 2013, Bach saved her life by donating her one of his kidneys, she revealed in her memoir in 2018.
She faced heartache that year, when her eldest son Craig died by suicide, and again in 2022 when her second son Ronnie died of cancer.
Known for her strength and resilience throughout her life, in an interview with the New York Times in 2019, she said: “I don’t necessarily want to be a ‘strong’ person. I had a terrible life. I just kept going.”
Turner always kept going.
And in what must have been one of her last interviews before she died, she told The Guardian exactly how she wanted to be remembered – as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “A woman who showed other women that it is okay to strive for success on their own terms.”