“With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” her representative said
Kampala, Uganda | AGENCIES | Tina Turner, one of rock and soul music’s greatest icons and comeback stories has died, leaving a seven-decade legacy that blazed a trail for divas like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, Jazmine Sullivan and Annie Lennox. In a statement released May 24, her representative announced: “Tina Turner, the ‘Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll,’ has died peacefully today at the age of 83 after a long illness in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model.”
The 12-time Grammy winner, two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and fiery, gritty voice of classics like “River Deep Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “Nutbush City Limits,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and the fittingly titled “The Best” had suffered various health issues in recent years, including a debilitating stroke in 2013, intestinal cancer in 2016 and a kidney transplant in 2017.
Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tenn., and she began singing at age 11 in Nutbush’s Spring Hill Baptist Church choir. She launched her music career in her late teens, after meeting her future husband, bandleader Ike Turner, at the Manhattan Club in East St. Louis. She was asked to officially join Ike’s group, the Kings of Rhythm, after grabbing the microphone during an intermission and impressing Ike with her impromptu performance of B.B. King’s “You Know I Love You.” Her first recording, where she was billed as Little Ann, was the Kings of Rhythm’s 1958 single “Boxtop.” She later changed her stage name to Tina, which rhymed with “Sheena,” upon Ike’s suggestion; the name was inspired by the comic book character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which influenced her wild, vibrant onstage persona.
The singer’s first release as Tina Turner was 1960’s “A Fool in Love,” which went to No. 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, followed by the Ike & Tina Turner Revue hits “I Idolize You,” “Poor Fool,” “Tra La La La La” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” the last earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rock and Roll Performance. Through constant touring and Chitlin’ Circuit gigs, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue quickly developed a reputation for being architects of early rock ’n’ roll and one of the most dynamic live acts in R&B.
Ike & Tina began a nearly decade-long streak of mainstream success in 1966 when they signed to Wall of Sound producer Phil Spector’s Philles label and released the stupendous international smash “River Deep Mountain High,” which Spector considered to be his finest work. A year later, Tina became the first female artist, as well as the first Black artist, to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. A headlining Vegas residency and tour with the Rolling Stones followed, and in 1971, Ike & Tina’s cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” became their biggest U.S. hit, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling more than 1 million copies, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group and arguably becoming more iconic than the CCR original.
Tina achieved great critical and commercial success as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, who were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and had two of their singles, “River Deep Mountain High” and “Proud Mary,” entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame. However, Ike, who Tina had begun dating in 1960 and married in 1962, was famously abusive, unfaithful and addicted to cocaine a situation that led Tina to attempt suicide in 1968. She finally left Ike in 1976 after they got into a violent altercation in a car in Dallas, with Tina fleeing the scene with only 36 cents in her pocket. After Ike and Tina’s divorce was finalized in 1978, many industry pundits (and Ike himself) believed her career was over, but Tina, who at that point was nearly 40, instead orchestrated one of the most spectacular comebacks in pop history.
Tina released two solo albums in the late ’70s, but she began her ’80s comeback, just as MTV was exploding in the U.S., with covers of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” both produced by Human League/Heaven 17 co-founder Martyn Ware. The international chart success of the latter cover prompted Capitol Records’ decision to release a full Tina album, Private Dancer, in 1984. Thanks to high-rotation MTV play of the video for that album’s lead single, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” which featured the charismatic, leggy diva strutting in a black miniskirt and bedazzled jean jacket Tina became a bigger pop sensation than she’d ever been before. At age 44, she set a record at that time for being the oldest female solo artist to top the Billboard Hot 100, with “What’s Love Got to Do With It”; Private Dancer spawned two other top 10 hits, sold 12 million copies worldwide and won three Grammys, including Record of the Year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” That song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.
Tina continued to dominate the MTV ’80s with her appearance on USA for Africa’s “We Are the World,” sensational performance with Mick Jagger at Live Aid, the Grammy-nominated Bryan Adams duet “It’s Only Love” and the epic theme song to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).” Tina also starred as the glamorous dictator Aunty Entity in that movie, her first acting role since she’d memorably portrayed the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s film adaptation of the Who’s Tommy 10 years earlier. In 1988, she performed for an audience of 180,000 fans at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, setting a Guinness World Record at the time for the largest paying concert audience for a solo artist. The follow-ups to Private Dancer, 1986’s Break Every Rule and 1989’s Foreign Affair, also went multiplatinum internationally.
Tina’s bestselling 1986 autobiography, I, Tina: My Life Story, which she co-wrote with MTV news correspondent and music journalist Kurt Loder, was adapted as the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It in 1993, earning respective Best Actress and Best Actor Oscar nominations for Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, who starred as Tina and Ike Turner. Tina’s single recorded for that film’s soundtrack, “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” was a top 10 hit in the U.S. and the U.K. Tina also scored a ’90s hit with another movie theme, “GoldenEye,” which was written by U2’s Bono and the Edge for the James Bond film of the same name.
As Tina neared her 60th birthday, she released her final two studio albums, Wildest Dreams and Twenty Four Seven, in the late ’90s. She lowered her profile after that, settling down in Switzerland, where she had lived since 1994, with German music executive Erwin Bach, who she married in 2013 after a 27-year romantic relationship. She made a public comeback at the 2008 Grammy Awards, historically duetting with one of her many disciples, Beyoncé, and that same year she embarked on her first tour in nearly a decade to celebrate her 50 years in show business.
In 2009, Tina officially retired from performing, but her legacy carried on via a jukebox musical; two other memoirs titled My Love Story and Happiness Becomes You; and a 2020 “What’s Love Got to Do With It” remix with Norwegian producer Kygo, which established her as the first artist to have a top 40 hit in seven consecutive decades in Britain. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 and was inducted by Bassett into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for a second time, this time as a solo artist, in 2021, accepting her award via satellite from her home. (Keith Urban and H.E.R. performed “It’s Only Love,” Mickey Guyton performed “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Aguilera performed “River Deep Mountain High” at the Hall’s ceremony.) Tina’s final public appearance was in the acclaimed 2021 HBO documentary Tina.
Tina’s many other accolades and honors include a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, three American Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, an NAACP Image Award, an Essence Award, two World Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Kennedy Center Honor and inductions into the Soul Music Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Classic Rock Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. She is survived by Bach and two sons, Ike Turner Jr. and Michael Turner.